George Zimmerman’s Trial for the Death of Teen Travyon Martin Begins: 8 Things You Must Know

George Zimmerman’s trial has caught our nation’s attention.  No matter where you stand on gun control, racial profiling, or self-defense, this case certainly has us talking.   What we know for sure is that on February 26, 2012 George Zimmerman fatally shot unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin.  Zimmerman, an active participant in a neighborhood watch program, was running a personal errand when he spotted Martin walking through the neighborhood.  Zimmerman called 911 and stated “This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something.”  The call to 911 ended and a few short moments later Zimmerman fatally shot Martin.

What really happened that night?  Florida’s court must decide if Zimmerman was acting in self-defense or if this was an unwarranted attack on a teen.  As the case plays out over the next few months, people will be sharing their opinions and debating over every detail of the case.  Regardless of the result of the case,  many Ohioan’s will be left wondering: “What does this case mean for me?  Do I have the right to defend myself in Ohio?”

Below are 8 things you must know about Ohio’s self-defense and gun laws.

1. What is deadly force?

Deadly force is an amount of force that is likely to cause either serious bodily injury or death of another person.    A court will look at all surrounding circumstances to determine if deadly force was used.  For example, if I shoot someone with a gun-that is clearly deadly force.  But if I use the butt of a gun hit someone in the arm-that would not be deadly force.

2. When can I use deadly force?

You can use deadly force only if there is a reasonable and honest belief of serious imminent bodily harm or death.  Also, you must not have initiated the confrontation, and you must try to leave the confrontation if you can do so safely.  Keep in mind that having a carry concealed license for a gun does not automatically grant you the right to use deadly force.

For more information on the difference between Ohio’s laws and Florida laws check out my blog: “Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law: Self Defense, Duty to Retreat, and the death of a 17 year-old boy.”

3. Defense of Others

Ohio’s laws specifically discourage individuals from taking matters into their own hands. However,  you still have a right to defend yourself and others. You can use deadly force to protect someone else if you reasonably and honestly believe that the other person is at immediate risk for serious bodily harm or death.   Additionally, the person you are defending must not have started the conflict.  IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE that even if you honestly believe that the person you were trying to defend did not start the confrontation, but you are wrong in that belief (and they actually did start the fight) then you risk criminal charges.


4. Can I defend my home?

This is a tricky question.  In Ohio, you can never use deadly force to protect property, including your home or car.  But, if you are in your home or car and are threatened with deadly force, let’s say by an intruder, you may use deadly force to protect yourself and others.   In this situation, you do not have a duty to retreat even if you can safely do so.

5. What if you are not using deadly force?

In those situations, there is no duty to retreat.  However, there is a duty to use only the amount of force necessary to protect yourself or someone else.  Self-defense does not generally allow someone to use force that is greater than necessary to protect yourself or another person.

6. What does having a Concealed Carry License do for me?

First thing is first.  The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the rights of lawful citizens to “bear arms”-which generally means “own guns”.  You do not need a special license to do so, although there are other requirements, such as a background check.  However, in practical terms even though you have the right to own a gun, the very act of taking the gun out of the home would likely make the gun concealed, which does require a special license.  Most people carry guns in holsters that general fit under clothing, put it in a purse or carry it in another way that would conceal it’s presence.  Also, Ohio has strict laws about transporting guns. You cannot transport a gun in a car without a carry concealed license even if you put the gun in a visible place, such as the passenger seat.  A benefit of the licensing process is that you have to class a class, which will expose you to many of Ohio gun laws and help ensure safe and legal ownership.

7. I have a license from another state?  Whose laws do I follow?

Gun laws change from state to state.   As soon as you cross a state line, you must follow that state’s laws.   For example, let’s say you have a carry concealed license from Florida, you do NOT follow Florida’s “no duty to retreat” law in Ohio.  You must follow Ohio’s laws (or the laws of the state you are in).  Also, ignorance of the law is not a defense.  You must inform yourself of all relevant state laws for any state you wish to carry a concealed gun.

8. What is reciprocity?  Can I carry my gun out of state?

Reciprocity is an agreement between states to honor each other’s carry concealed license.   To get a complete list of which states recognize Ohio’s licenses, go to the Ohio Attorney General’s website.  If your license is from another state, you must check with that state for a listing of that state’s reciprocity agreement (and make sure Ohio is on that list if you are licensed elsewhere!)  Finally, keep in mind that if you are planning a road trip, it is important to make sure every state you drive through has a reciprocity agreement with Ohio or your licensing state.  You must do this even if you don’t plan on stopping in every state.

Charged with a crime?  Your best chance of a good result is to get informed about your rights and hire an attorney help you through the process.  Contact W. Joseph Edwards for a consultation at 614.309.0243.  Over 30 years of experience and available 24/7.


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