Everyone has the right to protect themselves, but there is a fine line between self-defense and assault in the eyes of the law. Whether or not you can claim self-defense against an assault charge in Ohio depends on the circumstances of your case.
You likely never expected to be charged with assault, especially if you believe you were justified. While self-defense laws vary by state, the Columbus defense attorneys at LHA want to provide clarity and better explain the important distinctions between self-defense and assault in Ohio.
Self-Defense in Ohio Assault Cases
Self-defense is an affirmative defense outlined under Ohio Revised Code 2901.05. An affirmative defense confirms that you committed the act (e.g., assaulted someone) but argues you had a valid reason to do so. Therefore, you should not be held criminally responsible.
Self-defense in Ohio refers to using the force necessary to protect themselves, others, or that person’s residence from harm.
The Elements of Self-Defense in Ohio Assault Cases
Ohio law says you have the right to defend yourself or another against an imminent threat of bodily harm. But claiming self-defense is not a free pass. For self-defense to apply to an assault case, the following needs to be true:
- You Had a Reasonable Belief of Immediate Danger of Bodily Harm – This means that an average person, placed in the same situation, would also believe that they were in immediate danger and needed to defend themselves.
- Proportional Force Was Used – The force should be proportional to the threat. Deadly force is only justifiable if there’s a reasonable belief of danger of death or severe harm.
- You Were Not the Initial Aggressor – A person who starts a conflict cannot claim self-defense unless they withdraw from the situation and are then pursued.
Suppose you were attacked by someone wielding a knife while walking to your car. If you responded by using pepper spray or physically subdued your attacker until police arrived, self-defense would apply, especially given the immediate threat posed by the knife. However, if you argued over a parking spot and punched another person, you likely cannot claim self-defense if they hit you back because you were the aggressor.
Does Ohio Have a Duty to Retreat?
Until 2021, Ohio had a duty to retreat in public places, meaning one was generally required to avoid a physical confrontation if it was safe. For example, if someone threatens you after an incident in traffic, but you could quickly drive off to avoid a potentially violent encounter, you should do so.
Ohio adopted a “stand your ground” law in 2021, which removed the duty to retreat before using force in self-defense. But this does not give you carte blanche. Force still needs to be reasonable and in response to an immediate threat.
Under the updated law, if someone attacks you, you are within your rights to protect yourself instead of turning and running.
The Burden of Proof in Self-Defense Cases
The burden of proof refers to which side is responsible for proving a particular set of facts. In criminal assault cases, the prosecution’s job is to demonstrate guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a typical assault case, this is accomplished via some combination of evidence and testimony that you knowingly or recklessly caused or attempted to cause physical harm to another.
However, in Ohio assault cases involving self-defense claims, the prosecution must disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. This differs from other states where you may have the burden to actually prove self-defense.
Suppose you are charged with assaulting someone in a bar fight. If you can present a witness or video evidence suggesting the other party threatened you first, the prosecutor must establish that self-defense does not apply. This can be a high bar. Some possible ways prosecutors try to disprove self-defense is by challenging that your belief of imminent harm was not reasonable, the force was not proportional, or that you were the aggressor.
Other Factors Considered in Self-Defense Assault Cases
Raising a self-defense argument in an Ohio assault case can be complex and highly dependent on the facts and circumstances involved. Some other factors that may influence the viability of a self-defense strategy include:
- The history between the parties.
- Any threats made before the encounter.
- The relative physical abilities of the parties involved.
- The presence or absence of weapons.
- Witness testimonies and physical evidence.
How to Successfully Claim Self-Defense in an Assault Case
The events and circumstances that led to your assault charges might seem obvious to you, but convincing the police or prosecutor that you were protecting yourself can be complicated and challenging to do alone. And given the consequences of an assault conviction, it’s wise to work with an experienced defense lawyer, who can explain if self-defense is applicable and how to articulate that you acted out of self-preservation.
With a qualified attorney’s help, you can better argue self-defense in an assault case by presenting evidence of:
- Your good character/clean criminal record.
- The other party’s aggressive or threatening behavior caused an imminent fear.
- You tried to de-escalate the situation before using force.
- You used the appropriate and proportional force necessary.
Luftman, Heck & Associates Can Help
Our team of Columbus assault lawyers is passionate about letting you tell your side of the story and believe you should not be burdened with a criminal conviction if you are defending yourself. With an excellent success record in Ohio assault cases, let LHA explain whether self-defense is a viable defense option and fight to protect you.