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Major Change in Ohio Self – Defense Cases for Criminal Defendants

In a new law that has repercussions for gun owners and for criminal defendants, Ohio has changed how the law views an act of self defense in criminal cases.

The Ohio General Assembly asserts that it “finds and declares that it is proper for law-abiding people to protect themselves, their families, and others from intruders and attackers without fear of prosecution or civil action for acting in defense of themselves or others.” The new Ohio law has shifted the burden of proof for self-defense from the accused to the prosecution.  

In criminal cases, it is up to the prosecution to prove that a defendant, charged with a crime, is guilty. The defendant is “presumed innocent” by the court until the prosecution has proved “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant has indeed committed the crime. It is not the responsibility of the defendant to prove his or her innocence. However, when a defendant claimed self-defense in a criminal case, up until now it was the defendant who was tasked with proving that an alleged crime was an act of self-defense.

On March 28, 2019, a new law went into effect in Ohio. It is now the burden of the prosecutor, not the defendant, to prove that the accused did not act in self-defense. Up until the passage of this law, Ohio was the only state in the Union that laid the burden of proof on the defendant to prove that an act was committed in self-defense.

The new law has already led to the dismissal of at least one murder in case in Cleveland. After reviewing surveillance video evidence, the prosecutor determined he would not be able to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the alleged murderer had not acted in self-defense.

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Self-defense is often used as a defense in murder, homicide, manslaughter, or assault cases, in which the defendant admits to causing injury to another person, but only in order to avoid injury him or herself.

There are three elements of a self-defense claim: defendants claim that they

1) were not responsible for the situation,

2) believed they were in danger and that force was the only way for them to avoid injury or death, and

3) did not violate any duty to retreat or avoid the situation.

Self-defense is a complete defense to a criminal charge.  Under the new law, a defendant is afforded the “presumption of self-defense” when charged with harming another person. It is now the burden of the prosecutor to show that a defendant violated at least one of the three elements of a self-defense claim. The prosecution must show that the defendant was responsible for the dangerous situation; that he or she had no reason to fear injury, bodily harm, or death; or that that defendant did not exercise the duty to retreat or avoid the situation before doing injury the other person.

The third element, the duty to attempt to retreat from a threatening situation, became the subject of debate among Ohio legislators late last year. Ohio legislators gave serious consideration to passing a Stand Your Ground Law, currently in effect in 25 states including Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Texas.

In Stand Your Ground, a defendant does not have a duty to retreat when confronted with a threat, but may fire a weapon against a feared assailant in a public place. However, the Stand Your Ground provision did not gain enough support among Ohio legislators, and was removed in committee prior to going to a vote.

If you’re faced with criminal charges, the lawyers of Dearie, Fischer & Mathews will help protect your rights and develop defense strategies to increase your chances of having your charges dismissed or significantly reduced. Our lawyers are familiar with local Courts and can help you understand the strength of your case, and the likelihood of a favorable outcome either at trial or at the negotiating table. Our lawyers’ skills and experience will help you navigate the legal process and help you understand the charges against you. During your first visit or phone call, we can do an initial assessment of your case, and give you a good idea of your personalized defense strategy including how much our services will cost.

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