Ohio Supreme Court: Amended Self-Defense Burden of Proof Applies in Trials From 2019 Effective Date


Last week, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that a new state law which shifts the burden of proof in criminal trials involving self-defense claims applies to all cases as of March 28, 2019 – even when the alleged offense took place before the law’s effective date.

The ruling comes from the Court’s unanimous decision on July 21, 2022, to reverse a pair of rulings from the lower courts that found a Richland County woman had the burden of proving that she acted in self-defense during a 2018 altercation with her ex-boyfriend that left him with a serious injury.

Case Facts

The matter before the Ohio Supreme Court concerned the underlying case of Ms. Ladasia Brooks, who was indicted on September 2018 for several crimes arising from an altercation she had with her former boyfriend in June 2018. It also focused on an amendment to R.C. 2901.05, Ohio’s self-defense statute, that applies to all trials on or after its March 2019 effective date. The amendment required that when a defendant claims self-defense, the prosecution, rather than the defendant, has the burden of proving otherwise.

Prior to closing arguments in the initial trial, the presiding judge acknowledged that Ohio’s self-defense law had been changed between the date of the alleged crimes and the date of trial. After discussing the issue with counsel, the trial judge proceeded with using the version of the law that was in effect at the time of the alleged offenses, and not the current version of the law. As such, the jury was instructed that Ms. Brooks, rather than the prosecution, had the burden of proving that she acted in self-defense.

Ms. Brooks was ultimately found guilty in that trial and received a seven-year prison sentence. She appealed to the Fifth District, which affirmed the conviction and held that the trial court was correct in using the version of self-defense law in effect at the time of the 2018 altercation.

Ohio Supreme Court Weighs in On State’s Self-Defense Law & Effective Date

On appeal, the Ohio Supreme Court reversed the two lower court’s decisions, ruling that burden-shifting amendment applied prospectively and that the amendment should have been applied to Ms. Brooks’ trial even though the alleged crimes occurred prior to the amendment’s effective date.

In the majority opinion, Justice Brunner held that that shifting the burden to the prosecutor did not violate “Ohio’s Retroactivity Clause nor the United States Constitution’s Ex Post Facto Clause.”

In support of the Court’s findings, Justice Brunner explained that in certain circumstances, the legislature can pass laws that apply to conduct prior to the new laws’ effective dates when the laws are remedial in nature, meaning they provide a method to enforce existing laws, and that laws related to “procedures — rules of practice, courses of procedure, and methods of review — are ordinarily remedial in nature.” As it did not rule on the prosecution’s argument that Ms. Brooks was unable to claim self-defense to charges of burglary, the Court remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit to determine if Ms. Brooks could claim self-defense.

Read more about the ruling here.