Whether you live in a house, apartment, or trailer, you should be able to enjoy a sense of security in your own home.

What can you legally do, then, to defend yourself if you find an intruder has broken into your home? Do you have the legal right to defend yourself? In short, the laws in Ohio state that you are allowed to use lethal force if you are acting in self-defense.

How Ohio’s Self-Defense Laws Have Changed

Things have changed recently in terms of steps you’re allowed to take in Ohio to defend yourself. Under previous laws, you were able to claim self-defense in court after shooting an intruder… but it was up to you and your criminal defense attorney to actually prove you acted in self-defense. For example, if an intruder broke into your home wielding a gun, it would be up to you and your lawyer to convince the judge or jury that you actually feared for your life while taking action. In late 2018, however, some state lawmakers overrode the Governor’s veto to update the state’s laws regarding self-defense. That bill became known as House Bill 228. Now, you still have the right to use deadly force – with a legally owned weapon – to defend yourself, but it’s up to the prosecution to prove you weren’t acting in self-defense. In other words, you now have less to prove in order for your self-defense claim to be upheld. Before the bill was passed, Ohio was the only state in the nation that required you to prove you acted in self-defense.

Building Upon Ohio’s Castle Doctrine

Ohio is one of 23 states that has a “castle doctrine.” Using the idea that “your home is your castle,” its basic notion is that you have the legal right to defend yourself and your family from an intruder who breaks into your home while you’re inside.

That’s a key distinction to make.

In order to be protected by the castle doctrine, you must:

  • Be in your home or vehicle when the intruder attempts to break-in
  • Have a reasonable belief that you or your family is in immediate danger of either death or serious harm
  • Have not been at fault for either creating or escalating the situation.

Those are the standards that must be met in order to successfully use the protections of Ohio’s castle doctrine.

Protecting Your Property

Things can get a bit confusing here. While you can use force to protect your property and possessions, you cannot use deadly force to protect against theft in Ohio.

However, in cases of armed robbery or aggravated robbery when the intruder uses a deadly weapon or shows you they have a weapon, your use of deadly force would likely be better understood – as long as you didn’t violate any of the “duty to retreat” requirements.

Limits to Self-Defense and Castle Doctrine

Under current Ohio laws, you have a “duty to retreat” before acting in self-defense if you’re threatened or attacked in a public setting. We use the phrase “current Ohio laws” because there’s a bill being considered by lawmakers to change that.

Although you’re generally allowed to act in self-defense to protect yourself and your family while inside your home and vehicle, there are some restrictions.

You cannot claim self-defense if you:

  • Are in the process of committing a violent felony
  • Threatened the other person first
  • Resist arrest from a law enforcement officer.
  • Encounter intruders who are leaving your home or vehicle
  • See someone trying to break into your vehicle or home but you’re not actually inside either one.

The overriding element is that to use the self-defense argument, you must have been facing immediate danger in your home or vehicle.

How Business Owners Are Affected by Ohio’s Self-Defense Laws

Even though the Ohio Castle Doctrine does not specifically mention businesses, there is case law stating that business owners also have no duty to retreat in the face of danger.

The State v. Peacock (1883) and Graham v. State (1918) cases both say that “one has no duty to retreat if he is assaulted in his home or business.”

The Key Takeaway

Here in Ohio, you have the legal right to defend yourself and family from an intruder intending to cause you harm. While you certainly do not have a license to kill, you do have the legal right to protect yourself and your family.

If you’re facing criminal charges for your use of force or deadly force in self-defense, it’s vital that you contact a criminal defense attorney to represent you, and ensure your actions are viewed as being reasonable and necessary.