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King and Queen of the Castle: Self-Defense

Back in Biblical times, a certain highly regarded figure put forth the proposition that when confronted by an evil-doer, the right thing to do was not to resist, but to turn the other cheek. Until recently, the law of Ohio and many other states said roughly the same thing — well, nothing specifically about cheeks, but the part about not resisting an evil-doer showed up in the concept of what the law calls the Duty to Retreat. People who were confronted by a threatening situation were required to try and escape before resorting to the use of force to protect themselves. Otherwise, they would be barred from claiming self-defense if their act got them in trouble.

Recently, many states have moved toward an approach known as Stand Your Ground — a phrase that instantly entered the national debate in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case. Stand Your Ground laws make it OK for a person being threatened to act in self-defense with no duty to retreat — or, as some critics put it, to shoot first and ask questions later.

In some states, Stand Your Ground applies anywhere a confrontation occurs, including out in public. Ohio legislators, however, have limited the no-retreat rule to confrontations where someone is threatening you after illegally entering your home or your car — in other words, when an evil-doer invades your space. This is called the Castle Doctrine, named after the age-old belief that your home is your castle (and apparently, your car is your castle-on-wheels).

The idea is that you have an automatic right to act against an intruder, without trying to run away, when you have every right to be where you are and the intruder does not. Nor do you have to wait to find out exactly what the intruder had in mind when he broke in. If the intruder files charges against you as a result of injuries you inflict, he would have to prove he broke into your home or car with no intention of doing any harm. To which the likely response would be: Yeah, right.

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