- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - If you plan on carrying a stun gun in Iowa, you’d better have a permit for it, even if it doesn’t work.

The state Supreme Court on Friday restored the conviction of a woman who was charged with carrying a dangerous weapon, even though the weapon was a non-working stun gun police found in her purse during a 2013 arrest for shoplifting at a Waterloo Walmart.

According to court records, Taquala Howse, now 25, was handcuffed and taken to a police officer’s vehicle after she was identified as a theft suspect at the store. Waterloo officer Kyle Jurgensen searched her purse and found a small hand-held stun gun, which Howse said she carried for her own security when she went to nightclubs. She did not have a gun permit and was charged with going armed with a dangerous weapon, an aggravated misdemeanor under Iowa law.

Howse waived her right to a jury trial and a judge heard the case. He concluded the state had proven the stun gun was a dangerous weapon as defined by Iowa law and convicted her.

As part of Howse’s defense, her attorney presented testimony from an officer who said that when he tried to test the device, it didn’t work. The defense said the state presented insufficient evidence that the stun gun was a dangerous weapon because it didn’t work.

The Iowa Appeals Court agreed and last year reversed her conviction, leading prosecutors to appeal.

The state Supreme Court’s opinion, written by Justice Bruce Zager and filed Friday, concludes that the Legislature amended state law in 2008 to include as a dangerous weapon “any portable device or weapon directing an electric current, impulse, wave, or beam that produces a high-voltage pulse designed to immobilize a person.”

The court concluded that stun guns fit that definition and therefore are considered dangerous weapons.

It said it has ruled in previous cases that it’s not necessary to demonstrate that a weapon is operable when it is used to prove it is dangerous.

“A gun in the hands of a robber and pointed at the victim causes fear of death or injury and is so intended. The law does not contemplate that a victim under such circumstances must inquire if the gun is loaded. Neither does the law contemplate that there was no use of a dangerous weapon if it should be subsequently determined that the gun was in fact unloaded,” the court concluded in a 1966 case.

For Howse, the ruling means her conviction on the weapon charge stands. She also pleaded guilty to fifth-degree theft for the shoplifting, was given credit for the two days spent in jail and was ordered to repay the store.

“It’s disappointing but it’s a fair reading of the statute, so I can respect the decision,” said her attorney, John Audlehelm.

He said the case illustrates the need in Iowa to write a better statute that makes it clearer which weapons require a permit.

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Follow David Pitt on Twitter at https://twitter.com/davepitt . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-pitt .


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