COLUMBUS (WCMH) — A new stand your ground law is being considered by Ohio lawmakers at the Statehouse.
This piece of legislation was written by Ohio Gun Owners, according to the group’s director Chris Dorr.
Dorr said the group based the bill off of the Florida legislation and have updated it by taking into account the difficulties the original bill revealed.
Likewise, he says, the bill has been adjusted to accommodate for issues that have come up in Indiana.
According to Dorr, the fix the group has implemented is the addition of a pre-trial immunity clause.
In effect, the pre-trial immunity clause would force prosecutors who choose to charge someone with murder as the result of a shooting in which they claim self-defense was used, to provide clear and convincing evidence to the judge that the accused did not act in self-defense before the trial could begin.
If the prosecution fails to convince the judge, two things would happen. First, the murder charge would be dismissed, and second, the prosecution would be on the hook for paying the defendant’s court costs and attorney’s fees.
This second part is unprecedented, according to State Rep. Jeffrey Crossman (D-Parma).
Crossman, a practicing lawyer for the past two decades, does not believe there is any other law in Ohio that would grant payment of costs as this bill does.
He said both the immunity and the potential of payment of costs is designed to have a chilling effect on the prosecutors’ decision whether to charge someone with a crime.
“We don’t want to chill the prosecutor, we don’t want to prevent them from doing their job and we want to make sure they are protecting us all and this bill makes it harder for them to do that,” said Crossman.
“We,” as Crossman used it does not apply to all lawmakers.
The bill’s sponsors, State Rep. Candice Keller (R-Middletown) and State Rep. Ron Hood (R-Ashville) released a statement Friday afternoon that reads, in part:
”Already enacted in 36 states, Stand-Your-Ground law is a common-sense self-defense reform designed to backstop Ohio’s best citizens, protecting them from frivolous lawsuits or biased prosecutors in self-defense cases.”
Dorr provides an example of biased prosecutors with the case of Joshua Walker.
According to Dorr, Walker was unjustly charged with murder in Cleveland for defending himself after a man attacked him unprovoked from behind and when the fight spilled out of the establishment, Walker shot the man when he feared for this life as they wrestled on the ground.
There are a few things Dorr didn’t mention in his telling of the tale, and perhaps he did not know these things despite the information being readily available from multiple sources.
At the time, Joshua Walker was on probation on federal drug charges out of Phoenix, AZ. He was not allowed to have a gun as a result.
The video surveillance from the bar does show Walker’s attacker initiate the physical assault, but it also shows they were in the same room for some period of time prior to the attack and since there is no audio, we do not know if Walker may have said or done something to initiate the eventual encounter and draw the attackers attention or ire.
The video shows Walker on his feet facing his attacker before the assault begins and while he is punched first, he is not facing away, minding his own business as Dorr portrayed in his telling of the story.
Under the law at the time, Walker would have had to convince the jury that he had a reasonable fear of serious bodily harm when he shot his attacker, that he did not start the confrontation or do anything to escalate it, and, if possible, tried to get away from his attacker first.
The prosecutors had not seen the video of the incident before they put the matter before a grand jury and received an indictment based on those proceedings.
It is unclear who was ultimately responsible for that misstep, as the prosecutor ended up dropping the charges before the case went to trial.
The timing of all of that is Dorr’s point, though. The dropping of charges came 200 days after he was put in jail on the charges to begin with.
But Crossman sees this sort of thing differently than Dorr and the supporters of the bill.
“I think current self-defense law is working just fine,” said Crossman.
He believes that prosecutors are acting in good faith in Ohio, that when there is no doubt it is a case of self-defense, no charges are pursued. However, when the evidence makes that a close call, a jury should decide.
Ultimately, Crossman isn’t hearing from constituents that there is an injustice happening constantly or consistently in regards to prosecutors charging people when they claim self-defense.
“I don’t see a tremendous outcry of public support for this kind of law,” said Crossman.
But that is not the outcry Dorr is interested in.
According to Dorr, the outcry is from gun owners who are being disrespected by lawmakers.
“It’s really time for Republicans in this state to start treating gun owners with the respect they deserve,” said Dorr. “Quite frankly, for far too long, gun owners have been farmed for their votes.”
“We don’t care which chamber decides to pick up this mantle and push one of these bills forward because, quite frankly, that would let us put pressure on the other chamber,” Dorr added.