The time for holiday shopping and family get-together preparations is about to reach its summit. People are rushing to and from their vehicles with hardly a second glance at their surroundings. One distracted moment is all a criminal needs to get into your vehicle to steal your belongings, or worse, make you the victim of an assault or robbery. Situational awareness is key: be mindful of your surroundings, gravitate toward lit areas in parking lots, scan the area for any possible threat, and have a plan in mind for retreat or cover. But what happens when a law-abiding gun owner finds themselves in the sights of a criminal?
During the holiday season, many holiday shoppers are caught unaware by theft and robbery. It is critical that you, as a law-abiding gun owner, understand what legal response is allowable and justified for each of these criminal actions before you find yourself in the middle of one of these terrifying incidents.
Understanding When Use of Force is Justified
Especially if you carry a handgun, knowing the law on the justified use of force and deadly force to prevent a crime will help you develop a plan before an incident takes place. Theft, robbery, and auto break-ins are all too common around the holidays. We don’t want you to become a victim, so let’s address each of these.
Let’s imagine that you’re walking out of a store after shopping for presents. It’s late, but the parking lot is still pretty full of last-minute holiday shoppers. You push your cart across the lot while practicing situational awareness. The cart is just loaded with bags of presents you’ve bought for your family and friends. Upon reaching your car, you let go of the cart and begin searching for your keys. Just then, a person appears out of nowhere, grabs a few of the bags from the cart, and starts running away. This is known as “theft.”
Theft is the unlawful taking or exerting control over the property of another without their consent with the intent to deprive the owner of that property. Generally, theft alone with no other aggravating factors does not justify the use of deadly force.
Let’s change our earlier scenario. This time, the parking lot is pretty empty, save for a cluster of cars where you’re parked. As you reach your car and begin searching for your keys, a masked man appears from behind the car. He tells you quietly that you can either let him walk away with the shopping cart, or he’ll kill you. Ohio law defines this as “robbery.”
Robbery occurs when a perpetrator, in the course of committing theft, has a deadly weapon on or about their person or under their control at the time; inflicts, attempts to inflict, or threatens to inflict physical harm on you or uses or threatens the immediate use of force against you. As you can see, robbery, as opposed to theft, does create a risk of serious bodily injury or death. It is not simply a property crime for which deadly force is never justified in Ohio. It is now a crime against your person which may provide the requisite mental state for the justifiable use of deadly force in self-defense. That is, a “bona fide” belief that you may suffer imminent death or great bodily harm and that your use of deadly force is your only option. While the Ohio Revised Code (“ORC”) does not explicitly state that deadly force is always justified to prevent a robbery as it is in some states, it is certainly an option when you have a bona fide belief that you are in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm. But not all robberies are alike, so an understanding of how far you may go in response requires an appreciation of the gravity of the situation as it applies to you at that moment.
Theft From Your Auto
Let’s switch our scenario once more. This time, your car is at the very edge of all those that are parked in the lot. As you’re approaching it, you notice that the back, passenger-side window has been shattered. Droplets of glass are on the pavement and someone is rummaging around in the back seat, where you put the bags from your shopping trip earlier in the afternoon. Theft from a motor vehicle is another crime that is common in parking lots around the holidays and occurs when a perpetrator breaks into or enters a vehicle or any part of a vehicle with intent to commit a theft offense therein.
Such acts are treated and prosecuted under the general ORC theft statute and the level charged, either misdemeanor or felony, is dependent upon the value of the loss.
Typically, this is not a situation that would call for the use of deadly force. Basic physical force can be used as a justifiable response to someone attempting to break in and perhaps someone already in your vehicle upon your discovery. I strongly advise against escalating any such confrontation with the use of your firearm. Especially if the person is injured or killed, you could be prosecuted for an unjustified use of deadly force.
Remember, as stated earlier, property crimes allow for physical force to be used to prevent or stop the commission of the theft offense, including one in your vehicle.
Ohio self-defense law will prevail and the elements of it will still have to be satisfied, so do not use deadly force absent a bona fide belief of imminent death or harm as discussed earlier. Do not provoke or escalate the event; and satisfy the Ohio duty to retreat before relying on your gun. In the end, we want you to be safe, so utilize the police if at all possible.
Armed with situational awareness and an understanding of the self-defense laws in Ohio, you can protect yourself from the criminal element and keep yourself on the right side of the law this holiday season.
For any further questions regarding self-defense over the holiday season, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.
The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries, and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.