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Daily Court Reporter - News Legislation designed to update Ohio's self-defense standards


Legislation designed to update Ohio's self-defense standards

KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer

A bill proposing to shift the burden of proof to a prosecutor challenging an individual's self-defense claim recently secured a first hearing before committee members in the Ohio House of Representatives.

The legislation, according to its joint sponsors - Republican Reps. Terry Johnson and Sarah LaTourette of McDermott and Chesterland, respectively - would update state jurisprudence in accord with the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in D.C. v. Heller in 2008.

Ohio's castle doctrine, which lawfully allowed person to defend themselves in their home or vehicle, was enacted just two weeks before the high-court ruling, Johnson told members of the Federalism and Interstate Relations Committee.

"Castle doctrine did not even attempt to address some logical anachronisms that were placed in to the law in 2004 when lobbying groups and bureaucrats sought to make Ohio's then concealed carry bill so unappetizing they believed it would not become law," he continued. "Again, we are not trying to grant some new set of rights or establish a new protected class but simply correct the errors of the past so we can have a productive debate in the future.

"I also want to note that even though Heller states that 'a handgun is the quintessential self-defense weapon,' Ohio's self-defense laws apply to any act of self defense whether the victim uses a firearm, a bat, a vehicle or something as absurd as a porcelain dolphin statue."

House Bill 228 also would modify Ohio's duty to retreat, eliminate provisions of Ohio law that relate to carrying concealed firearm, strike formerly required, obsolete signage and standardize penalties for those who improperly carry a firearm in a motor vehicle

"This is not a bill that will allow the unrestricted use of weapons and allow people to claim self defense when the first two portions of the (State v.) Melchior test are not met," Johnson said.

Melchior requires that the slayer is not at fault in creating the situation giving rise to the act of self defense and that he has a bonafide belief he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that his only means of escape from such danger was in the use of force.

"In fact, this will not be the most far-reaching law in the country, if passed," the lawmaker continued. "Ohio will join 38 other states with laws similar to what is proposed in this bill.

"Perhaps one day, Ohio will be as progressive as California and allow those acting in self defense to 'pursue their assailant if reasonable in the situation' in addition to having no duty to retreat but I choose to conservatively advocate for only the latter."

LaTourette told committee members that she views the goal of the legislation to eliminate any question a law abiding citizen may have in deciding whether he would be able to defend himself in court before deciding to defend family in a life-and-death situation.

"While I understand this can be a tough conversation for some, I truly believe that the legislation ... is a common sense, needed modification to the current self-defense and concealed carry laws in our state," she said.

A representative of Buckeye Firearms Association offered testimony in support of the measure, commenting on the idiosyncratic nature of current law.

"When Ohio eliminated the duty to retreat from one's house and vehicle, opponents claimed that it would cause people to shoot others just because they could, and that prosecutors would not be able to prosecute any home shootings," association President James Irvine said. "In fact, the law has worked as intended, and prosecution has been able to overcome the presumption of innocence to get a conviction where lethal force was used improperly.

"It makes no sense that Ohio has different standards for self defense in one's home and car than on the driveway in between the two. The law should favor the crime victim, no matter where they are attacked."

Another provision of the bill would eliminate a concealed handgun licensee's duty to keep hands in plain sight during law enforcement encounters. Under the bill, the licensee is excused from the requirement to keep hands in plain sight if doing so is impractical.

HB 228, which had not been scheduled for a second hearing at time of publication, is cosponsored by 35 fellow House members.

Date Published: July 27, 2017


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