Prosecutor gives his take on House Bill 203

The following article was originally published by The Lima News. Republished with permission.

by Greg Sowinski

LIMA — If Ohio lawmakers pass a measure dubbed the "stand your ground" bill, residents no longer will have a duty to retreat before using deadly force so long as they are lawfully at a place, Allen County Prosecutor Juergen Waldick told Elida Optimists on Tuesday.

Waldick was asked to talk about current self-defense laws, the proposed "stand your ground" bill and previous self-defense laws.

"We used to be a chicken state. In other words, if you could run you had to run," Waldick said under old law.

He explained when current self-defense laws were established three elements were adopted. The first was the person did not create the situation. The second was the person had an honest belief and reasonable grounds to believe that he or she was in imminent danger of suffering serious physical harm or death. The third was the person had a duty to retreat.

If the three were present, someone could use lethal force to protect themselves, he said.

After that, and just a few years back the previous governor signed into law Ohio's Castle Doctrine, which says a person does not have a duty to retreat from his or her home or car.

"That was a major change in the law," Waldick said.

When he began prosecuting in 1986, Waldick said it was a lot harder to assert self-defense at trial.

The most recent proposed change is the "stand your ground" law that captured national attention through the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, in which a man shot and killed Martin when Martin attacked him.

Although the case was decided on self-defense and had nothing to do with Florida's "stand your ground law" the national media pushed the law into the debate.

Waldick criticized the national media saying the national media improperly handled coverage on the case. The national media showed pictures of Martin as a young teen, several years younger than his age at the time of the incident. The picture of the man who shot Martin was displayed as a police mugshot, he said.

The national media also tried to mask the injuries to George Zimmerman, who shot Martin. Those injuries were substantial, Waldick said.

While the Martin case captured national attention, Waldick said such cases are rare. In fact, Waldick said he cannot remember a single case during his 27 years prosecuting that fell under the proposed "stand your ground" bill.

Waldick also talked about the criticisms of the bill. Some fear it would create vigilantism.

"The fear is people are going to round up and act like police officers and when they see something happening they are going to use their weapons," Waldick said. "I just don’t see that happening here in Allen County."

Waldick told the group the change in self-defense laws, including arming law-abiding residents through concealed handgun licensing, is a result of crime. As an example, he said anyone living in Lima has a one in 1,000 chance of being shot and killed in a 10-year span.

While that number may shock some, he said there are factors that put someone closer to being the one, including whether they are involved in the illegal drug trade, the time they are out such as at night, and where they go when they are out.

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