A Man’s Home is His Castle, Especially in Ohio

When I was teaching American Government we would annually have several inmates from Chillicothe Correctional Institute, along with prison councilors and staff, visit our classes to discuss several topics including punishment versus rehabilitation.

On one occasion an inmate told his story of being found guilty of voluntary manslaughter for having shot and killed a home intruder. According to his version, while living with his parents in their home, he had been awaken during the night by a noise coming from the living room. He grabbed a firearm and proceeded to investigate the situation. Once entering the living room he saw an intruder, felt he was in danger and fired in self-defense. His story was compelling and in the minds of both myself and most students convincing that an injustice had been committed. After all, doesn’t a man have the right to protect his castle?

The following day with the inmate not present, a prison councilor queried the students about their reaction to the man’s story. Once they had their say the councilor began to read from the trial records which showed a story that differed on several important points. Mainly, the intruder had been shot outside of the home and in the back. The intruder was not attacking or threatening the home’s residents, he was in fact, fleeing. In the eyes of Ohio law at that time this was not a case of self-defense. Also, under the existing law, deadly force was not permissible to protect property. A man can protect life but not his property.

That law is not such in other states. I’ve often been told, for example, Texas has long permitted the use of deadly force to protect property. Hanging cattle rustlers from the nearest cottonwood tree goes way back in the history of the American West.

Until recently I wasn’t aware that the law in Ohio had changed. In September of 2008 Ohio Revised Code was amended to permit persons to use deadly force if they are physically inside of their residence or their motor vehicle. You cannot be standing on the sidewalk, a deck, a porch, the roof, or in any way be outside the exterior walls of the home or vehicle. But, if someone approaches the thresholds of the home with malice of intent the use of force becomes increasingly authorized.

For purposes of determining the potential liability of a person in a tort action related to the person’s use of force alleged to be in self-defense, defense of another, or defense of the person’s residence, if the person lawfully is in that person’s residence, the person has no duty to retreat before using force in self-defense, defense of another, or defense of that person’s residence, and, if the person lawfully is an occupant of that person’s vehicle or lawfully is an occupant in a vehicle owned by an immediate family member of the person, the person has no duty to retreat before using force in self-defense or defense of another.

This does not mean you can shoot just anyone who approaches your front door. If you do take defensive action against another the authorities are not going to turn a blind eye just because you were inside your castle. They are going to be looking for proof that you, a legal occupant of your residence, or your property were, in fact, sufficiently endangered to call for deadly force. The only thing that has changed in Ohio law is you no longer have to show evidence of trying to “retreat” from harms way if you are inside your castle or car.

Now to cover my rear a little. Take note that I am not an attorney and what I’ve said in this article is founded on a minimal amount of basic research. The law is never as simple and straight forward as it may seem. Dealing with its complexities is exactly why it is never a good idea to assume you understand it or attempt to represent yourself in a trial. The old saying is that a lawyer who defends himself has a fool for an attorney.

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