Intruders and the “Castle Doctrine” in Ohio

In September of 2008, the “Castle Doctrine” took effect in Ohio. It is codified in R.C. 2901.05. This doctrine is actually an amendment to existing Ohio self-defense law. The new law reads in pertinent part:

(B)(1) Subject to division (B)(2) of this section, a person is presumed to have acted in self defense or defense of another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if the person against whom the defensive force is used is in the process of unlawfully and without privilege to do so entering, or has unlawfully and without privilege to do so entered, the residence or vehicle occupied by the person using the defensive force.

  • This creates a presumption of self-defense when force is used against an intruder in one’s own home or vehicle
  • Under the old law, the burden was on the defendant to prove that he acted in self-defense by a preponderance of the evidence.
  • The keys here though are that:
  • The intruder is actually an intruder; this means the person whom forced is being used against doesn’t have a lawful right or privilege to be in that home or vehicle. For example, if you invite a plumber into your house you can’t shoot him for being there.
  • You have to be currently occupying the residence or vehicle. If you come home and find a burglar leaving your house you aren’t allowed to shoot him (just ask Mr. Niederhause, a Utah man who recently shot at 2 people he believed to be intruders leaving his home).

The statute continues:

(2)(a) The presumption set forth in division (B)(1) of this section does not apply if the person against whom the defensive force is used has a right to be in, or is a lawful resident of, the residence or vehicle.

  • Again, you can’t shoot someone you invited into your home under most circumstances.
  • Another example is the mailman. He is allowed to be on your porch to deliver mail; he has a privilege to do so and you can’t shoot him for simply doing his job

(b) The presumption set forth in division (B)(1) of this section does not apply if the person who uses the defensive force uses it while in a residence or vehicle and the person is unlawfully, and without privilege to be, in that residence or vehicle.

  • This means that the presumption we talked about above does not apply to the intruder.
  • It stands to reason that the guy who breaks into your house can’t claim self-defense if he injures you.

(3) The presumption set forth in division (B)(1) of this section is a rebuttable presumption and may be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence.

  • This means that just because the judge has allowed you to invoke the Castle Doctrine doesn’t mean that you’re in the clear. The State of Ohio can still argue that you weren’t using self-defense, the intruder was lawfully there, or any other element of this statute.

Are you wondering what this covers? I mean what locations are actually intended to be covered by the statute?

  • (2) “Dwelling” means a building or conveyance of any kind that has a roof over it and that is designed to be occupied by people lodging in the building or conveyance at night, regardless of whether the building or conveyance is temporary or permanent or is mobile or immobile. As used in this division, a building or conveyance includes, but is not limited to, an attached porch, and a building or conveyance with a roof over it includes, but is not limited to, a tent.
  • (3) “Residence” means a dwelling in which a person resides either temporarily or permanently or is visiting as a guest.
  • (4) “Vehicle” means a conveyance of any kind, whether or not motorized, that is designed to transport people or property.

As you can see, dwelling can cover even your porch or a tent; residence covers even visits as a guest; and a vehicle is defined as anything designed to carry a person or property. Clearly, lawmakers designed the statute to cover a wide range of scenarios to protect citizens who simply want to defend themselves and their families. However, there are scenarios this statute will not protect you:

  • You can’t shoot someone for simply stepping onto your land.
    • It’s called the “Castle Doctrine,” not the “Property Doctrine.”
    • The statute is very clear that an intruder has to be entering some type of structure where people may sleep.
    • And no, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve warned anyone not to come on your property. In fact, you can never use deadly force to defend property in Ohio.
  • You also can’t shoot someone who is leaving a residence or shoot someone outside your residence while you are inside (or while you’re both outside for that matter).
    • It stands to reason that if an intruder is either 1) retreating or 2) not yet inside the home there is no threat and therefore, no reason to use deadly force.
    • The Law Office of Brian Jones recently had a client who was killed after he was allegedly trying to break into a home. However, a police investigation revealed that our client was actually leaving the home and may have even been shot outside while the shooter was inside. Thus, the shooter was charged with murder and is now awaiting trial.

The most important part of the statute, and the part which is the crux of the entire American legal system, is the definition of “reasonable doubt.” It is the highest burden of proof in any legal system in the world. The phrase is thrown around a lot on TV shows and movies. But what does it actually mean?

  • (E) “Reasonable doubt” is present when the jurors, after they have carefully considered and compared all the evidence, cannot say they are firmly convinced of the truth of the charge. It is a doubt based on reason and common sense. Reasonable doubt is not mere possible doubt, because everything relating to human affairs or depending on moral evidence is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. “Proof beyond a reasonable doubt” is proof of such character that an ordinary person would be willing to rely and act upon it in the most important of the person’s own affairs.

The Law Office of Brian Jones tells every single jury that to convict our client, you must be so convinced that you would rely upon it in the most important affairs of your life. If your finding is guilty, are you sure enough that you would rely upon it in getting married? In taking or not taking a job? If the answer is no then the jury must say Not Guilty.

If you or a loved one have been accused of shooting an intruder and the State of Ohio is trying to charge it as a crime call us. We would love to help. The Law Office of Brian Jones handles cases throughout Ohio and has two offices in Central Ohio protecting the citizens of Delaware, Marion, Columbus, Dublin, Upper Arlington, Westerville, Worthington, Whitehall, Grove City, Groveport, and beyond from government accusations.