In Iowa, your first legal obligation is to remove yourself from the situation. Most often referred to as a “duty to retreat.” A quick internet search for my state found the following:
A couple highlights from Chapter 704 Force - Reasonable or Deadly - Defenses are below and I encourage you to read them all and keep them in your brain!
704.1 as an example reads as follows: “‘Reasonable force’ is that force and no more which a reasonable person, in like circumstances, would judge to be necessary to prevent an injury or loss and can include deadly force if it is reasonable to believe that such force is necessary to avoid injury or risk to one's life or safety or the life or safety of another, or it is reasonable to believe that such force is necessary to resist a like force or threat. Reasonable force, including deadly force, may be used even if an alternative course of action is available if the alternative entails a risk to life or safety, or the life or safety of a third party, or requires one to abandon or retreat from one's dwelling or place of business or employment.”
704.6 reads: The defense of justification is not available to the following:
1. One who is participating in a forcible felony, or riot, or a duel.
2. One who initially provokes the use of force against oneself, with the intent to use such force as an excuse to inflict injury on the assailant.
3. One who initially provokes the use of force against oneself by one's unlawful acts, unless:
a. Such force is grossly disproportionate to the provocation, and is so great that the person reasonably believes that the person is in imminent danger of death or serious injury or
The person withdraws from physical contact with the other and indicates clearly to the other that the person desires to terminate the conflict but the other continues or resumes the use of force.
Other important divisions to become familiar with are 724.4 Carrying weapons, 702.7 Dangerous Weapons, and 724.1 Offensive Weapons.
These laws are on the books and freely available for you to learn and you should, even if you do not train in a martial art.
What most fail to understand is that Self-Defense is a legal term. This means you are admitting to being guilty of an illegal act. It is also up to you to prove and justify your actions, one slip in your story and you are done. As an example, if you are out at your local pub and some rowdy hooligans start harassing you and you do not remove yourself from the scene via a de-escalating verbal communication (“Sorry man, I am leaving.”). Then you proceed to get physical. That is not self-defense, but mutual combative assault and you could become bunkmates behind bars.
Self-defense is, in the words of Rory Miller in Meditations on Violence, “...recovery from stupidity or bad luck, from finding yourself in a position you would have given almost anything to prevent.” Self-defense is an option in the chain of events and your best course is to verbally de-escalate and walk away. If it does comes to blows, you will have a long journey ahead of you. It may not be in your favor in both legal and civil realms. Rory encapsulates this well in the same book and gives a guide for avoiding a civil lawsuit with this sentence, “The legal essence of self-defense is that you are required to use ‘the minimum level of force’ which you ‘reasonably believe’ is necessary to safely resolve the situation.” If you go to court you will need to clearly state
- What you did
- Why you did it
- What you could have done to make it worse
And remember, once the guy is down, you’re done. No adding a “AND THAT’S FOR MESSING UP MY DAY” kick when he’s down. Get away to a safe location, make sure you are not severely injured and call the police and/or ambulance, say you have been assaulted and wait for them to arrive. Say only what you have to and do not start talking about what happened without a lawyer if it is very bad. Your adrenaline will be flowing and this can make you say something like, “this guy got in my face and I decked him,” instead of articulating the whole story as it happened.
These are situations we discuss at Kapatiran Suntukan Martial Arts. They are nearly priceless to understand. Having a good understanding of the actions and consequences is an insurance policy for if (and some may say when) you find yourself having a bad day.