When the Trayvon Martin case became a national story, it attracted a lot of attention to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law and implicitly every other state’s laws that determine when you can kill someone legally.

Locally, the case raises a question: Under what circumstances can a person kill in self-defense in Hamilton County and avoid prosecution?

Ohio law generally says that people can use deadly force against an assailant in self-defense. But the law here places a higher burden on people than in Florida to demonstrate the homicide was justified.


The Ohio Revised Code does not have an explicit definition of the legitimate use of deadly force in all situations.  Instead, much of the legal concept of self-defense in Ohio is based on common law and past court rulings.

In general, Ohio law allows people to use deadly force against another person if they have a reasonable belief, even if mistaken, that the person poses an imminent “danger of death or great bodily harm,” and the people can’t exercise their “duty to retreat” or escape from the situation.

A self-defense claim is invalid if the person doing the killing did anything to cause the situation that resulted in them being in danger or failed to take an opportunity to safely leave the scene.  Person A cannot instigate a confrontation with person B, and then shoot person B when B attacks A.  Unless person A is in his or her own home, person A always has the duty to retreat.  That is, person A must try to avoid the use of deadly force unless it is absolutely necessary.

Courts have ruled that ultimately to avoid being convicted of murder or manslaughter, a defendant who has been charged and claims self-defense must invoke something known as an affirmative defense. He or she has to prove to a jury it’s more likely than not that all the elements for a legal self-defense were present. The burden isn’t on the prosecutor to prove that the defendant wasn’t entitled to claim self-defense.

Many members of the criminal defense bar complain that Ohio has the worst self-defense law in the country because of that.  Placing the burden on the defendant is not fair. … you run the risk that the jury can’t decide who’s telling the truth. When that happens, the defendant loses.

Ohio’s law does, however, provide more protection under the “Castle Doctrine.” The provision applies if a resident is in their home or their vehicle or has been invited into someone’s home or vehicle, and an intruder unlawfully enters the home or vehicle. If the resident reasonably believes the intruder is going to kill or inflict serious bodily harm upon him or anyone else, he can kill the intruder and it would be presumed to be legal self-defense. The burden would then be on the prosecutor to show the resident did not have a reasonable belief of imminent danger. Also, people have no duty to retreat in their home, their vehicle or the vehicle of an immediate family member, according to the law.


In contrast to Ohio’s reliance on court rulings, Florida’s statute book devotes an entire chapter to “Justifiable Use of Force.” It says a person can use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that “such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”

The law includes the castle doctrine, granting anyone who kills an intruder in his or her home or vehicle the presumption that it was done in self-defense, unless the home’s occupant was engaged in an illegal activity. Importantly, the Florida law explicitly says there is no duty to retreat anywhere if a person has the right to be there. Some believe that should be the law in Ohio.

The Florida law says anyone who justifiably kills in self-defense “is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force. … the (law enforcement) agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.”

In other words, the law in Florida does not explicitly lift the burden for a defendant to demonstrate he committed a justifiable homicide, but it appears to substantially relieve it.

A resolution attached to the original bill in 2005 says, “the Legislature finds 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 and others, and … nor should a person or victim be required to needlessly retreat in the face of intrusion or attack …”

The Bottom Line:

In Ohio, if you make the decision to use your weapon, the world changes for you.  In Ohio, anyone who kills in self-defense can still be in legal jeopardy.  The chances are substantial that a person will be prosecuted.  Whether the charges would stick is the obvious issue.  Always call the police first if you can.  If you are confronted with a bad situation, run away.  If you have no other choice, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.  There’s an old saying ‘It’s better to be judged by 12 than carried by six.’

If you are confronted with a self defense situation, cooperate with the police, but ask for a lawyer before you make a statement.” It is important that you act immediately in hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney.  I will help you find the best defense strategies possible. Put my number in your mobile and reach me anytime: 513-260-2099