A new Stand Your Ground bill has made its way to Ohio’s legislature. The proposed bill would allow gun owners to use deadly force while relieving them of the duty to retreat before resorting to deadly force. Senate Bill 180 was introduced earlier this week along with a companion bill that would expand what is often referred to as the Castle Doctrine. The Castle Doctrine allows people to act in self-defense when in their homes, cars, or a relative’s car without the duty to retreat. The proposed legislation would expand the Castle Doctrine’s right to use deadly force without the retreating requirement to anywhere a person has a legal right to be, like a sidewalk or parking lot.
The authors of the bills also want to shift the burden of proof in self-defense cases from the defense to prosecutors. Currently, criminal defendants must prove they acted in self-defense by a preponderance of the evidence, a less exacting standard than beyond a reasonable doubt. Supporters of the bill point out that Ohio is the only state in which people must prove they acted in self-defense when deadly force is used.
Republican lawmakers passed an extensive “pro-gun” piece of legislation in 2013 that originally contained stand-your ground language. However, the Senate removed that language after overwhelming opposition from prosecutors and the Fraternal Order of Police. Both the Ohio Prosecuting Attorney’s Association and FOP of Ohio object to the current bill as well. The executive director of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Association says there is no evidence that prosecutors are improperly handing charges against people who claim they acted in self-defense and the current laws are serving the public well. The government affairs director for FOP stated that “even officers have a duty to de-escalate the situation” before resorting to deadly force.
Stand Your Ground legislation gained national attention after the 2012 death of 17 year old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman who asserted the stand your ground defense. Zimmerman was acting in an unofficial capacity and against police advice when he approached Martin who he believed was “up to no good.” The facts of the altercation between Martin and Zimmerman have been widely disputed, but Zimmerman claimed he shot Martin after a struggle for Zimmerman’s gun. It is not disputed that the entire situation would have been avoided if Zimmerman had followed police advice and had not instigated the fight with the unarmed teen. Florida’s stand your ground law, passed in 2005, permits the use of deadly force whenever an individual reasonably believes great bodily harm is imminent. The Florida law imposes no duty to attempt to retreat before using deadly force and does not consider whether the defendant initiated the confrontation.
The Stand Your Ground Bill will most likely have difficulty becoming law in Ohio, because it is facing continued opposition from the FOP and prosecutors. In fact, some experts have argued that the bill is a “license to kill” for individuals armed with a deadly weapon. For example, if Individual A is armed with a weapon and gets into a confrontation with Individual B who is similarly armed, Individual A may legally use deadly force against Individual B. Should Individual A actually kill Individual B during the confrontation, absent credible witnesses, the death of Individual B would almost always result in an acquittal, because prosecutors could never prove that A was not in fear for his life as B was also armed with a deadly weapon. Usually Ohio Republicans, the FOP, and County Prosecutors agree on legislative matters. But here, it appears a fight is brewing which will be interesting to observe.
If you need a lawyer for a criminal State or Federal case but particularly issues regarding gun rights, relief from weapon disability or seeking the return of weapons/property seized; call Attorney W. Joseph Edwards (614-309-0243) who has over 25 years experience representing clients in these legal matters.