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Stun gun versus Taser, Pain versus Paralysis

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Pain versus paralysis? Which would you choose when being arrested, robbed or raped? Lawyers and judges keep adapting to the changing world of technology and can find decisions turn on the quirkiest of details. This case is one such walk on the wild side while trying to decide what the legislature meant by the use of certain words and phrases. It feels like counting flees on the back of a mangy dog. 

Two young women are taken into custody after being accused of shoplifting at the Wal-Mart in Waterloo, Iowa. One of the two has in her purse a stun gun. She has no permit to carry a concealed weapon. She is charged with going armed with a dangerous weapon concealed on or about her person in violation of Iowa law. (Iowa Code section 724.4(1)) Later the stun gun is determined by an officer to be inoperable. (i.e., it doesn’t work.)

State of Iowa vs. Howse, Iowa Supreme Court, No. 13-1997 (2016)

At trial one officer describes what it is like to be shot with a Taser versus a stun gun.

“Officer Jurgensen was asked to describe the difference in how it feels to be Tased and how it feels to be stunned by a stun gun. Q: Have you ever been Tased, officer? A: Yes. Q: What do they feel like? A: It’s a unique experience, but every single muscle on your body tightens up, and you can’t move. . . . . Q: So, I think you described what it feels like to be Tased. Is it a separate feeling, then, when it’s just a stun gun? A: Yes. Q: And what does that feel like, then? A: It’s more of a pain. Q: Okay. So, it’s not as severe as a Taser? A: It’s not as long. He described a stun gun as a “pain compliance” tool, whereas a Taser with probes would result in a “full-body lockup.” He clarified that the device found in Howse’s purse was a stun gun and not a Taser.1”

A Taser shoots darts that stick in a person’s skin, while a stun gun to work has to have two electrodes applied to the skin. Both can kill. Each, in some manner, causes obedience to a command. This is merely a discussion about the difference between pain versus paralysis.

“Officer Jurgensen was also asked about a stun gun’s ability to cause injury or death. When asked if a stun gun was capable of causing death if it was used in the manner for which it was designed, he answered no. He did, however, testify that a stun gun could result in death in certain situations, for example, if the stunned individual was under the influence of drugs or had a heart condition. He testified a stun gun was designed to incapacitate an individual so they could be arrested or prevented from fleeing.”

This testimony about the Taser versus the stun gun is some of what advancing technologies has done to the practice of criminal law. The law now splits hairs as to how compliance is to be achieved.

“Officer Erie likened the shock from a stun gun to a layman’s description of being electrocuted. He stated that most people would “probably jump” if they were touched with an active stun gun. This is in contrast to being Tased, which “causes [a person] to lock up, fall down. It causes neuromuscular incapacitation.” Officer Erie was also asked whether a stun gun would be capable of immobilizing someone and testified: Q: Okay. So, would a Taser immobilize a person? A: Yes, Tasers do that. Q: Would a stun gun immobilize a person? A: If they’re standing? Q: Yes. A: No, ‘cause if you stick it on, they jump— they jump back, so— Q: So, in your opinion a stun gun is more to get them to do what you want them to do? A: Exactly. . . . . Q: If you place the device on the individual’s neck or head, will that incapacitate the person? A: You know, it’s hard to say. Different people have different tolerances for it . . . . It’s just because of the sensitivity of the neck, and there’s a lot of things in there that—a lot of different arteries leading to the brain, that if it’s interrupted by electrical current, you know, it could potentially cause them to fall down or pass out or something.”

But my problem with most if not all of this testimony being offered is something we call foundation; how are either of these officers being allowed to testify about how the human body reacts to an electrical shock? That seems like the area of medicine and engineering, not law enforcement. Based on the record shown in the opinion, neither has sufficient medical training to know which will cause death or serious bodily harm, yet each testified about those issues. No objection? Why is this being allowed?

And in the end the Court concluded:

“In this appeal, the defendant asks us to decide whether there was sufficient evidence in the record to conclude an inoperable stun gun—or a stun gun that has not been shown to be operable—qualifies as a dangerous weapon under Iowa Code section 702.7 (2011). The State argues that our previous opinion in State v. Geier, 484 N.W.2d 167 (Iowa 1992), controls, or alternatively, that this case only involves statutory interpretation of Iowa Code section 702.7 and error has not been preserved. We conclude that a stun gun is per se a dangerous weapon as defined in the statute. Therefore, we vacate the decision of the court of appeals and affirm the judgment of the district court.”

Iowa Supreme Court says stun gun that doesn’t work is a dangerous weapon


Stun gun ruling PDF

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