Scott M. Kuboff, Esq.
Northeast Ohio Trial Attorney

Understanding Your Rights

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UYR: Your Right to Self-Defense

        Over the weekend, George Zimmerman was acquitted of several charges related to the death of Trayvon Martin. It is a polarizing case on topics ranging from gun control to race and the outcome of the trial certainly highlighted strong emotions on both sides. At the center of Zimmerman’s defense is Florida’s so-called “stand your ground” statute. Under Florida law, an individual can defend himself without having anyduty to retreat. That’s what it means by “stand your ground.” 

        Ohio, on the other hand, is not a true “stand your ground” state because it really depends on the circumstances and the location of the incident where force is used. In situations where non-deadly force is used -- i.e. fist fight, shoving match, etc. -- there is no duty to retreat before you defend yourself; meaning you can “stand your ground.” The use of non-deadly force is justified when (1) the person was not at fault in creating the situation, (2) the person reasonably believed that some force was necessary to defend himself against the imminent use of unlawful force, and (3) the force used was not likely to cause death or great bodily harm. 

        In situations where deadly force is used -- firearm, knife, bat, etc. -- an individual first owes a duty to retreat or otherwise avoid the danger if it is possible. In such situations, to establish self-defense a person must (1) not be at fault in creating the situation, (2) have a bona fide belief that he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that his only means of escape from such danger was the use of such force; and (3) must not have violated any duty to retreat or avoid the danger. In other words, in Ohio, you cannot simply “stand your ground” if you have the ability to retreat and avoid the danger. 

        However, this is not true if the incident occurs inside your home or vehicle. Under the Castle Doctrine, you do not have the duty to retreat before using any force to act in self-defense against someone who is in the process of entering or has entered your residence or vehicle. It is important to understand, however, that the person against whom the force is use, must not have a privilege to actually enter your house or vehicle.

        To recap, when in your house, vehicle, or when you are using non-deadly force, you have no duty to retreat or, in other words, may “stand your ground.” Otherwise, you first owe a duty to retreat or otherwise avoid the danger if it is possible.