The Defense of Clients Who Defend Themselves
By: April Campbell
Got a client who is being prosecuted for having the audacity to defend themselves? Two recent decisions might just matter to you.
Decided this month, the Twelfth District has now agreed with the Second about some very recent legislation regarding self-defense. State v. Debord, 2020-Ohio-57 (Jan. 13, 2020); State v. Koch, 2019-Ohio-4099 (Oct. 4, 2019). These cases spring from legislation that began with a movement we are all familiar with: Stand Your Ground.
Ever since the infamous shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012, state legislatures have exploded with bills dedicated to introducing new self-defense laws. These laws revamp the way the State handles self-defense prosecutions. Ohio for the most part, has consistently rejected varying amendments to our law on the subject. That is, until recently.
Not too long ago, the Stand Your Ground movement stood firm and won: the Ohio legislature overrode Governor Kasich’s veto of HB 228, enacting a new groundbreaking self-defense law. That decision has impacted the way we who try these cases discuss the right to defend oneself to a jury. And the impact has been huge. Effective March 28, 2019, the law put the burden on the State to disprove self-defense.
That left open a question: does the law apply retroactively? Given the legislatures fierce determination to enact it, some say yes. Some say maybe, including those who wrote the current jury instructions on the issue.
Now that two districts have decided that the law is not in fact retroactive, those currently defending themselves—for defending themselves—might just be out of luck. The takeaway: if you’re in one of these two jurisdictions, much condolences. If you’re not, arguing for the retroactivity of the self-defense law might now be an uphill battle. But as with every uphill battle, just think of the view from up top.