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Ohio Supreme Court Clarifies Self-Defense Law in Ohio

by | Feb 22, 2024 | Criminal Defense

The Ohio Supreme Court recently clarified Ohio’s self defense law. In a four to three decision in State v. Palmer, the Court granted a new trial for a defendant who was convicted of felonious assault in Clermont County. The Court ruled that the jury in the original trial should have been instructed about self-defense and that the trial court erred when it did not give that jury instruction.

The defendant, Palmer, was a cab driver who drove an intoxicated customer from the casino in Cincinnati to Moscow, Ohio. Upon arriving in Moscow, Palmer noticed that his passenger had fallen asleep and he called out twice to him. He continued driving and did not try to wake the passenger up until he noticed a sign for Ripley, Ohio. The passenger woke and became upset that they had driven past his destination and that the fare was over $100. He demanded to be taken back to a gas station in Moscow. At the gas station the passenger refused to pay the fare, argued with Palmer, and shoved him twice. Palmer then went back to his vehicle to call the police and the passenger, who claimed he forgot his cell phone, approached Palmer’s car. Palmer feared for his life and shot the passenger. Palmer then exited the vehicle and fired another shot at the ground near the passenger. Although Palmer admitted to shooting the passenger, who survived, he claimed it was in self-defense. The trial court, though, did not instruct the jury that they could consider that defense. The jury then convicted him of felonious assault.

On appeal the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the jury should have been instructed about self-defense as Palmer presented adequate evidence to support the elements of self-defense. This standard is different than persuasive evidence of self-defense. In considering this, the Court noted that the trial court must weigh the particular characteristics, knowledge, or lack of knowledge, circumstances, history, and conditions at the time of the incident to determine whether Palmer reasonably believed he was in imminent danger.

The elements of self-defense

In order to claim self defense, a defendant must show that (1) he was not at fault in creating the situation that led to the affray; (2) he had a “bona fide belief” that he was “in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm” and his only way to escape was by using force; and (3) he did not violate a duty to retreat. However, a person has no duty to retreat before using force in self-defense if that person is in a place in which the person lawfully has a right to be.

Palmer’s Evidence

On the night of the incident, Palmer was 71 years old. During his career as a cab driver, he had been shot at, attacked, beaten, and robbed. He began carrying a gun in his cab after hearing a story about a taxi driver who had been shot in the head. He also typically avoided driving his cab at night because he was afraid. The passenger was 38 years old and was described as a taller and bigger guy. Additionally, the passenger was very intoxicated, argumentative, and shoved Palmer. Palmer was concerned that he was going to be killed if he did not defend himself. The Court also noted that Palmer, who is African-American, was in a prominently white area.


The Court found Palmer should have received a jury instruction for self-defense since he presented legally sufficient evidence to show that under the same circumstances, a reasonable cab driver of Palmer’s age, with the same history and knowledge and in the same environment in which Palmer found himself, could have subjectively believed that he was in imminent danger and that deadly force was necessary. As a result, it ordered a new trial for Palmer in the Clermont County Court of Common Pleas.