The unthinkable has happened. Somebody put you into imminent danger of death or great bodily harm. It was lucky for you that you were legally carrying a firearm and could use it to defend yourself. But now that you shot somebody in self-defense, a whole new kind of fear starts to rise to the surface along with one great big question: “What is going to happen to me now?”
The good news is that as of April 4, 2021, your actions were justified. But just why that is and what strings are attached is what we’re here to talk about today. Ohio’s new “stand your ground” laws make it easier for people to defend themselves, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to simply shoot anybody you feel like.
Our goal is to get to the bottom of when you are justified to shoot someone in self-defense, so we’ll be starting our discussion there. This will lead us to the burden of proof required to prove a shooting was in self-defense, as well as a discussion on the duty to retreat as it stands in Ohio today.
When Are You Justified to Shoot Someone in Self-Defense?
As mentioned, the law regarding self-defense shootings changed only recently. It was first signed into law on January 4, 2021, and went into effect on April 4, 2021. This means that if you have any prior experience with a self-defense shooting here in Ohio, the legal experience is quite a bit different from what it used to be.
Previously, you were justified in shooting somebody in self-defense if you were not responsible for creating the situation, if there was a threat of imminent death, if there was no reasonable way to retreat from the situation, and if the use of force itself was reasonable. Now, this creates a modestly clear picture of what was and wasn’t acceptable, but it certainly left a lot of room for arguments both for and against any particular use of force.
The law, as of April 4, 2021, has added more protections for those who are using force in self-defense. The goal with this change is to help make it easier for people to defend themselves if they have to, without nearly as much worry about the outcome.
Under the new law, a self-defense shooting is justified if the shooter is not the aggressor, if they believe they are in imminent danger of death, and if they are in a location where they have the right to be. So that means you can’t trespass onto somebody’s property and then shoot them in self-defense, but it does simplify the law surrounding self-defense shootings to offer more protections to those who use force while defending themselves.
Another protection is added through a change to the burden of proof required to prove a shooting was in self-defense.
What Is the Burden of Proof Required to Show a Shooting Was in Self-Defense?
House Bill 288 was passed in 2018 and went into effect on March 27, 2019. Two years before the change to the self-defense laws, this new law greatly affects those who use force in self-defense.
Prior to this new law, the burden of proof fell on the shoulders of the individual that defended themselves. What this meant was that the defendant was required to prove to a jury that their actions were done in self-defense. This means that the burden of proof was entirely up to the defendant and their attorney.
Following the law that went into effect in March of 2019, the responsibility to prove that a shooting was in self-defense has been eliminated. Instead, it is now up to the state to prove to the jury that the individual’s actions were not in self-defense.
This is actually a really big change that can affect the outcome of many cases. Throughout Ohio’s history, there have been many such self-defense cases where the individual did not have the evidence required to prove that they were acting in self-defense. But likewise, the state didn’t have the evidence required to prove that it wasn’t in self-defense. This means that in those cases, the defendant was doomed to lose. Now, in a case like that, the state would lose.
It may seem like a small change but it means a lot for those who have to use force in order to defend themselves from imminent danger.
Do You Still Have a Duty to Retreat in a Case of Self-Defense?
Prior to the new law going into effect in 2021, those who shot somebody in self-defense were required to have first tried to retreat from the situation. For example, say an altercation happens while you’re in your driveway. If you pulled a gun and shot, you would be breaking the law because you didn’t first try to retreat into your home.
In theory, this approach to self-defense would reduce violence. However, in practice, it often didn’t work out as planned. For one, a violent altercation can escalate at a moment’s notice; this means that the only option may be to defend yourself or to suffer bodily. To take the time to retreat could mean your life.
So the duty to retreat has been removed from the self-defense laws. This is why laws of this nature are called “stand your ground” laws. Rather than have to retreat, you are allowed to stand your ground. This allows you to make a split-second decision and defend yourself where you stand.
What Should I Do If I’m Involved in a Self-Defense Shooting?
While Ohio’s laws now offer you much greater protections to defend yourself, they should not be seen as a reason to forego legal representation. While the duty is on the state to prove that a shooting wasn’t self-defense, that doesn’t mean that the state can’t get things wrong and make a compelling case for the jury.
The best course of action following a self-defense shooting is to retain the services of an experienced lawyer that can help you deal with any of the challenges that arise. The process is certainly easier than it had been previously, but you should never take it lightly when your freedom is on the line.
Written by The Law Office of Brian Jones, LLC
- Dr. Benjamin Jackoby
- Dr. Hank Jackoby