To claim self-defense by legal definition in the state of Ohio, the defendant must prove three conditionals. With some exceptions, the defendant must prove that:
Condition 1, Defendant is not at fault
First, the defendant must not have created the situation. The defendant cannot be the first aggressor or initiator. However, in proving the victim’s fault, a defendant cannot point to other unrelated situations in which the victim was the aggressor. Remember, the focus is on the specific facts of the situation at hand.
If you escalate a confrontation by throwing the first punch, attacking, or drawing your handgun, you are the aggressor. Most likely in this situation, you cannot legitimately claim self-defense nor would you likely succeed in proving your affirmative defense
Condition 2, Reasonable and Honest Belief of Danger
Second, the defendant must have had a real belief that he was in immediate danger of death or great bodily harm and that his use of deadly force was the only way to escape that danger. Bear in mind that deadly force may only be used to protect against serious bodily harm or death. The key word is “serious.”
In deciding whether the bodily harm was serious, the judge or jury can consider how the victim attacked the defendant, any weapon the victim had, and how he used it against the defendant. Minor bruises or bumps from a scuffle probably do not meet the legal definition of “serious.” In court cases, rape has been determined to be serious bodily harm, as has being attacked with scissors. Serious bodily harm also may result from being struck with an object that can cause damage, such as a baseball bat or a wooden club.
The defendant’s belief that he is in immediate serious danger is important. The defendant’s belief must be reasonable, not purely speculative. In deciding if the belief was reasonable and honest, the
judge or jury will envision themselves standing in the defendant’s shoes and consider his physical characteristics, emotional state, mental status, and knowledge; the victim’s actions and words; and
all other facts regarding the encounter. The victim must have acted in a threatening manner. Words alone, regardless of how abusive or provoking, or threats of future harm (“I’m going to kill you tomorrow”) do not justify the use of deadly force.
Condition 3, Duty to Retreat
A defendant must show that he did not have a duty to retreat or avoid the danger. A person must retreat or avoid danger by leaving or voicing his intention to leave and ending his participation in the confrontation.
If one person retreats and the other continues to fight, the person who left the confrontation may later be justified in using deadly force when he can prove all three conditions of self-defense existed. You
should always try to retreat from a confrontation before using deadly force if retreating does not endanger yourself or others. If the person can escape danger by means such as leaving or using less than deadly force, he must use those means. If you have no means to escape the other person’s attack and you reasonably, honestly believe that you are about to be killed or receive serious bodily harm, you may be able
to use deadly force if that is the only way for you to escape that danger.
self defense is justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion.
The Model Penal Code § 3.04(1)
“Castle Doctrine” generally encompasses the idea that a person does not
have a duty to retreat from the residence he lawfully occupies before using
force in self-defense or defense of another. Additionally, there is no duty
to retreat if a person is lawfully in his vehicle or is lawfully an occupant
in a vehicle owned by an immediate family member of that person.
However, being a lawful occupant of a residence or vehicle is not a
license to use deadly force against an attacker. The person who is
attacked, without fault of his own, may use deadly force only if he
reasonably and honestly believed that deadly force was necessary
to prevent serious bodily harm or death. If the person does not have
this belief, he should not use deadly force. Again, if it does not put
your life or the life of others in danger, you should withdraw from the
confrontation if it is safe for you to do so.
The law presumes you to have acted in self-defense or defense of
another when using deadly force if the victim had unlawfully and
without privilege entered or was in the process of entering the
residence or vehicle you occupy. Self-defense and the burden of proof
can be complicated, fact-specific legal concepts. Generally speaking,
the law will not presume that you have acted in self-defense if either
of two things are true: 1. The person against whom defense force is
used has a right to be in, or is a lawful resident of, the residence or
vehicle where the act of self-defense takes place. 2. The person using
defensive force within a residence or vehicle is not there lawfully.
Statutory Reference – 2901.05(B)(3)(a)-(b)
Ohio law was changed in 2019 in self-defense cases. If there is
evidence that tends to support that a person accused of a crime used
force in self-defense, the burden shifts to the prosecution to prove
beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did not use force in selfdefense, defense of another or defense of one’s residence.
Statutory Reference(s): ORC 2901.05 sets forth the burden shift.
ORC 2901.09(B) establishes that there is no duty to retreat before using force if a person is
lawfully within their residence, vehicle, or a vehicle owned by an immediate family member.
Defense of Others
A person may defend another only if the protected person would have
had the right to use deadly force in self-defense himself. Under Ohio law,
a person may defend family members, friends, or strangers. However,
just as if he were protecting himself, a person cannot use any more force
than is reasonable and necessary to prevent the harm threatened.
A defendant who claims he used deadly force to protect another has
to prove that he reasonably and honestly believed that the person he
protected was in immediate danger of serious bodily harm or death
and that deadly force was the only way to protect the person from
that danger. Furthermore, the defendant also must show that the
protected person was not at fault for creating the situation and did
not have a duty to leave or avoid the situation.
WARNING: The law specifically discourages citizens from taking
matters into their own hands and acting as law enforcement.
This is true even if you think you are performing a good deed
by protecting someone or helping law enforcement. The Ohio
Supreme Court has ruled that a person risks criminal charges if
he interferes in a struggle and protects the person who was at
fault, even if he mistakenly believed that person did not create
In other words, if you misinterpret a situation and interfere, you
may face criminal charges because your use of deadly force is not
justified. If you do not know all the facts and interfere, you will not be
justified to use force. It does not matter that you mistakenly believed
another was in danger and not at fault.
Of greater concern than risking criminal charges is the fact that you
may be putting yourself and others in danger. If you use your handgun
to interfere in a situation and an officer arrives on the scene, the
officer will not be able to tell if you are the criminal or if you are the
Ohio law does not encourage vigilantism. A license to carry a
concealed handgun does not deputize you as a law enforcement
agent. Officers are trained to protect members of the community,
handle all types of situations, and enforce the law. Do not allow the
license to carry a concealed handgun to give you a false sense of
security or empowerment. Let law enforcement officers do their job.
If you want to be a Good Samaritan, call the police.
Defense of Property
There must be an immediate threat of serious bodily harm or death in
order to use deadly force. Protecting property alone does not allow
for the use of deadly force. A property owner may use reasonable,
but never deadly, force when he honestly believes that the force will
protect his property from harm.
If a person’s property is being attacked or threatened, he may not
use deadly force unless he reasonably believes it was the only way
to protect himself or another from being killed or receiving serious
bodily harm. Deadly force can never be used solely to protect
property no matter where the threat to the property occurs.
A license to carry a concealed handgun does not bring with it the
automatic right to use deadly force. The appropriateness of using any
force depends on the specific facts of each and every situation.