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Ohio’s castle doctrine law justifies defending yourself without retreating in your home or car. Twenty-nine-year-old Woodrow Edwards III was in his girlfriend’s car when a man he didn’t know lifted the door handle and tried to enter. Edwards then lifted the .40-caliber handgun he was legally carrying. As a result, he was convicted of aggravated menacing. Though only fined $100 and ordered to stay away from the other man, he’s appealing his conviction based on a novel (at least for Ohio) interpretation of the state’s castle doctrine law . . .

The case will be the first of its kind in Ohio because Edwards argues the castle doctrine should extend to his girlfriend’s car.

“The judge fully welcomed the appeal,” Brad Fox, Edwards’ attorney, said. “She said there’s no case law on it now.”

The key point in this case is, does that right extend to a person in the car of someone other than a relative.

The original incident had an unusual twist to it. As it turns out, Eric Taylor, the handle jiggler, is the ex-boyfriend of Edwards’ girlfriend. Why Taylor took it upon himself to manipulate the door handle of his ex-girlfriend’s car isn’t clear. How the cops got involved is also not clear, but I suspect a man-card violation.

I would much rather not fire a weapon should I ever feel threatened with serious injury or death if making the person I think is a bad guy know I have the means to protect myself is enough. Who needs that on their conscience? Though I doubt all the ‘facts’ in this case as reported, from what I can glean it looks like this was a misunderstanding that could have ended tragically – but didn’t. Why punish someone for showing restraint?

Castle doctrine laws provide a very high wall of protection for citizens exercising the right to self defense in places they have a legal right to be. The prosecutor’s argument against application of castle doctrine protection in this case rests on Edwards’ relationship with the car’s owner. Because the car belongs to the girlfriend and is not his own or a family member’s, Ohio’s castle doctrine doesn’t apply – at least in this prosecutor’s mind. This is the thought process of someone looking for a way to deprive a citizen of their liberty.

That the prosecutor went to these lengths and the judge went along with it reminds me why we need castle doctrine laws in the first place.

As to the specific claim that the girlfriend’s car is a “castle” from which there is no duty to retreat, the spirit of the law is that anywhere one is legally permitted to be ought not carry with it a duty to retreat. No situation where one is in fear of serious bodily harm or death should require you to turn your back on your attacker.

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  1. This makes you wonder what would happen if he shot a face eating zombie, or just a regular home invader, at his girlfriends home, while she was not there. Hope he has a different defense attorney for the appeal.

  2. In the view of the ant-gun anti-stand your ground crowd does this mean the prosecutor wants a car window shattered before a gun can be shown as a deterrent? What about a hypothetical case of a man staying at his girlfriend’s home? If there is a break-in there will the prosecutor still argue the Castle Doctrine defense does not apply to the guest?

  3. There is nothing much a defense attorney can do when the prosecutor is out to test the literal wording of a statute for sport. The judge, on the other hand, could well have chosen a broader interpretation, thereby dealing justice to the defendant and forcing the DA’s office to think twice before spending scarce funds on an appeal.

    It does strike me as odd that the laws in most states favor the “hide your gun, if you bring it out pull the trigger” approach rather than the “I have gun. This is what it looks like. Go away..” approach. Curious result.

    • “It does strike me as odd that the laws in most states favor the “hide your gun, if you bring it out pull the trigger” approach rather than the “I have gun. This is what it looks like. Go away..” approach. Curious result.”

      I have always found this funny. Being threatened and put the threat in the ground? Nothing to see here folks, go on about your business. Stop a crime by making it known you’re packing? Go to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $500.
      They would rather a messy clean up and long court drama over a scared would-be criminal tucking tail and running? Makes a whole lot of no sense to me. I think that we need a law protecting certain well-defined cases where brandishing can be used as a crime deterrent without fear of landing in the pokey.

      • “you can open carry” would be their reply.

        it is confusing why if you are in fear of your life, such as a person coming at you from 20 feet away, that you cannot put 2 rounds into the ground to stop the threat. I think that would stop the threat about 99.9% of the time. Christ, what about the children?

        • “you can open carry” would be their reply.

          There are states that allow concealed carry, but do not allow open carry. I have no clue if Ohio is one of those or not.

        • “ is confusing why if you are in fear of your life, such as a person coming at you from 20 feet away, that you cannot put 2 rounds into the ground to stop the threat…”
          IMHO if you are truly in fear for your life you would be better off putting those two rounds center mass. I will keep mine concealed unless, FSM forbid, I am in a situation where I feel mine or my loved ones are about to die. If that time comes there will be no warning shots.

  4. As it turns out, Eric Taylor, the handle jiggler, is the ex-boyfriend of Edwards’ girlfriend. Why Taylor took it upon himself to manipulate the door handle of his ex-girlfriend’s car isn’t clear. How the cops got involved is also not clear, but I suspect a man-card violation.

    Two points.

    One, who cares about the relationship of the guy illicitly breaking into the car? The law against assault and murder have no exemptions for exes.

    That brings me to point #2:never pick up girls unarmed. You don’t know her past, and it could come a knocking with violent intentions for you and your new lady friend.

    • “That brings me to point #2:never pick up girls unarmed. You don’t know her past, and it could come a knocking with violent intentions for you and your new lady friend.”

      This. Ex-boyfriends are assholes. All of them, all the time. Even when they’re not. I’ve only had one altercation with an ex-boyfriend whom I knew was an asshole prior to the altercation. I’ve had a couple others with ex-boyfriends who were nice guys, right up until they weren’t. Neither altercation in those two cases was a result of specific, purposeful provocation from me. One came out of nowhere, one resulted from a gentle reminder that he no longer had a proprietary interest in the lady in question.

      Be respectful, be civil, be prepared.

      Oh, and none of my ex-bf altercations have involved gunplay of any kind.

  5. There should be a MUCH lower threshold for brandishing a firearm as a deterrent than what is required for actually shooting someone. To charge someone for menacing for showing the firearm in a situation where he arguably could have legally shot the other individual is the height of stupidity. Of course, I’ve come to expect nothing less from the anti-gun people and prosecutors in general. And I live in a state where I don’t even have the right to defend myself in my own home. I really need to re-thnk that.

  6. This case is of special interest to me. I’m living with my fiancée in Ohio (she owns the condo, but we split rent and utilities), but until the wedding my parents are claiming me as a dependent and I go to school in Northern KY, so my legal address is my parents house in KY. I keep a HD weapon at our condo, and in the event of a break-in would be the one pulling the trigger. Under the opinion of the prosecutor in the above case, if I used a gun to protect our condo, I would be breaking the law. Scary thought.

    I hope all turns out well for the above gentleman. A little case law on my side until the wedding would help me sleep better at night.

    • Check the laws in your state, you might be fine. For example here’s the relevant bit of Washington’s that would apply in your case:

      RCW 9A.16.050
      Homicide — By other person — When justifiable.

      Homicide is also justifiable when committed either:
      (2) In the actual resistance of an attempt to commit a felony upon the slayer, in his or her presence, or upon or in a dwelling, or other place of abode, in which he or she is.

  7. Why is brandishing a weapon or firing a warning shot to scare someone off so frowned upon? In many of the stories I’ve read some people get into trouble for firing a warning shot into the ground to scare someone off their property. Where this confuses me is if it’s a castle law state in that scenario it would be justifiable to use deadly force if the person refused to vacate the property. So it’s okay in that situation to shoot at the person, but not shoot at the ground to scare them to spare them their life and give them the chance to come to their senses and just leave?

    • Warning shots are frowned upon because they undermine the idea that you felt an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm, therefore undermining your case for self defense generally. If you felt you could shoot to warn, you could probably have warned in a less risky way. Shooting into the ground is somewhat preferable to shooting into the air, but still not great if the ground is hard and allows for ricochets. You’re responsible for harm that results from a bullet that ricochets and strikes a bystander.

      Brandishing I see as more borderline. If you pull a gun whenever someone gives you a sidelong glance, that would get pretty disruptive. At the same time, I agree that if you’re in a self defense situation, you pull a gun, and the attacker disengages before you need to fire, then you shouldn’t face any jeopardy in that case. Anything else result would be silly.

      • @Chewbaca, that was kind of the point I was trying to make. Why is it legal to shoot an intruder, but not to scare them off by brandishing a weapon. The DA should be feting this person on the courthouse steps for his calm restraint in NOT shooting the idiot trying to get into his ex-girlfriend’s car.

        @Carlos, (I have a kid with that name, but we call him Bobo; long story) anyway, I am reminded of a line the comic Titus said once, that if everyone carried a gun openly, the world would be much more polite. Maybe open carry is the answer. I would hope that even a criminal would have enough self-preservation to not try and lob a store where a half-dozen obviously armed citizens are shopping. Not holding my breath on that one though. Still and all, it boggles the mind that they would prosecute someone for brandishing a weapon where the perp obviously lived to tell about it.

  8. So according to this prosecutor, if I’m in a pizza place and an armed “badguy” enters threatening the customers (including me), I have no stand your ground protection, unless the pizza place belongs to me or a relative?

    I also had dealings back around 1990 with an ex-husband that entered my then girl-friend’s house and was making threats at her. When I stood up, he asked me, “Do you want some of this?” That was when I showed him the way out of the door and into the lawn. My method involved enough velocity that he didn’t touch the porch on the way out. Sure enough, the police arrived some time latter and I had to go to court, because it was not my house. No firearms involved, and my situation was resolved due to other factors that I won’t go into here. But I came within a whisker of being on the wrong side of the law at the time.

  9. If the feeling here is that brandishing is not always a bad thing, I’m guessing that the judge in the case actually agrees. Or do you think that the typical sentence for aggravated menacing in Ohio is a $100 fine? Also:

    “The judge fully welcomed the appeal,” Brad Fox, Edwards’ attorney, said. “She said there’s no case law on it now.”

    So what I see in this case is a judge who found herself bound by the actual words of the statute (shuldn’t all judges?), didn’t want to make shit up and rewrite the law, handed down the minimum sentence in the interest of justice and fairness and welcomed an appeal. That doesn’t sound like a runaway judge to me. That sounds like a hell of a jurist.

        • I often though of changing my name from Ralph to Bill. I once had a law partner named Sue. How great was that!

        • I think other great lawyer names might be “Ransack”, Pillage” or perhaps “Plunder”

          Ransack, Pillage and Plunder, LLP. It’s a plaintiffs firm.

        • IIRC, the British satirical magazine Private Eye (owned by Peter Cook) had a mythical firm of solicitors (aka attorneys) called Messrs. Suem, Grabbit and Runne.

    • While that’s a good point, Ralph, the main point is missed. He is now a convicted criminal (which will be used against him in the future) simply for having the means to defend his life. If he shot the guy, he might be protected by an SYG, Castle, or other such law. Instead, because he didn’t fire the gun, he’s a criminal. It’s not the leniency of the judge or the minimal $100 fine that’s important. It’s the CONVICTION.

      You have a right to defend yourself anywhere and everywhere from anyone (yes, even cops) This is a natural, fundamental, and inalienable right. Our world has become so disgusting that defending your life is a crime. Our judicial system is a criminal enterprise whose decisions do not reflect public opinion and violate constitutional provisions based on individual opinions. These rules (i.e. the constitution) are not up for interpretation. It must be taken literally and include the broadest sense of each rule. Allowing interpretation undermines the original intent.

      • Guywithagun, aggravated menacing in Ohio is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 6 months, so Edwards is not debarred under the ’68 Gun Control Act. Neither is it a crime of domestic violence, so the Lautenberg Amendment doesn’t apply. IIRC, the misdemeanor does not strip him of his Ohio gun rights, either. So he’s free to go and sin no more.

    • This is an interesting take, Ralph. Clearly I had not thought of it.

      Still, the prosecutor’s lack of common sense reinforces the necessity of lawmakers having to codify common sense – and the unintended consequences.

    • +$100
      + More lawyers fees (Not refundable)
      + More Lost time at work for court (Not refundable)

      The list can grow.

  10. This just downright frightens me. I have family in Ohio, every time I go visit them I am armed…so If I was at my brother in law/sisters house, someone tries to break in the castle doctrine would not protect me? I believe this is a gross attempt by anti gun types to twist the intent of a law. Does the castle doctrine apply to rental cars? What about a borrowed car?

    • But let the police find a roach in the ashtray and I’ll be damned if that and everything else in the car is your responsibility. It’s either “your” car or it isn’t.

  11. IT should be simple. The castle doctrine shuld apply if you have a right to be in the pale where the incident occurred and the attacker did not. So if I’m a guest in your home or car, and someone tries to break in, I get the protection of the statute.

  12. I don’t think I understand what actually happened. A motor vehicle is the most powerful weapon most civilians will operate. The smart thing to do if you’re in one and suspect a threat is to drive away. If the girl friend is behind the wheel and the ex-boyfriend is at the door trying to get in, retreat is impossible. The only way I can see this prosecuted is if the ex-boyfriend was not conducting himself in a manner which could reasonably be perceived as a threat.

    • It doesn’t seem like the BF did anything that should have been seen as threatening, but then again, we weren’t there. The problem is that the BF called the cops — Edwards didn’t. Sometime the guy who makes the first call wins.

      Lesson learned. If you even have to draw your carry piece, call the cops asap and get your story out there first. “He came at me! He practically ripped the car door off it’s hinges! I was scared to death and drew my gun in self defense! He backed off before I pointed it at him! Thank god I didn’t have to shoot! You gotta get here right away — I’m scared that he might come back!”

      Had Edwards made that call, he might not have been charged.

  13. This was a textbook case of defensive use of a gun.

    Guns are used by private citizens 2.5 million times per year to prevent crimes, 99% of the time without a shot being fired.

    Display of the gun deterred the handle-jiggler from whatever mischief he had in mind, and no one was hurt.

    What better outcome could you hope for?

  14. Criminal Justice System.

    That’s what you call it when the criminals (prosecutors) are running the system.

    If Bozos were running it, you could call it “The Bozo Justice System”.

    Come to think of it, that fits too.

  15. I very much hope that the proliferation of Castle Doctrine laws doesn’t muddy the waters on every other kind of self defense. I can see that happening. Prosecutors will be going after people whom they see as “outside the castle”.

  16. Tim, you have a pretty low standard for determining if you “feel threatened with serious injury or death.”

    But that’s what having a gun and living by the no-retreat rule is all about, isn’t it?

    • An attempted carjacking is pretty serious. That’s what trying to open the door of an occupied car that you have no legal right to enter is. Carjacking is, in fact serious enough that it’s a Federal felony. And, per Wikipedia…
      “Many U.S. states, such as Louisiana and Arizona, include defending oneself against forcible entry of an occupied motor vehicle as part of their definition of justifiable homicide.”

      But sure, defending yourself from a carjacking’s a low standard for being threatened. Let’s assume that for the sake of argument.

      The man in question still did a reasonable thing. Had the guy at the door continued, he’d have been in a little bit of a tough spot until the door was actually open (or a weapon presented), so the most advisable action might have been to gun it (likely injuring the assailant, but v0v) to escape. But the question isn’t “Did he do the best thing, it’s did he do a reasonable thing.

      • Bullshit, it’s no more attempted carjacking than it is attempted murder. And by the same token it could be a desire to apologize for bothering the nice couple.

        You guys are too quick to see lethal threat. It’s your fear and insecurity.

        • Carjacking is the crime of stealing an occupied vehicle through force or intimidation.

          The first step in stealing an occupied vehicle is entering the vehicle (duh). Forcibly attempting to enter an occupied car is not “bothering” someone, it’s a crime.

          A stranger trying to enter your occupied car is (whether he thinks he is or not) attempting a carjacking.

          I never said he was a lethal threat in this instance, and pointed out that Edwards would have been in a rough legal place had the assailant continued trying to enter without drawing some weapon or displaying some other threat.

          Mike, you’re too quick to condemn gun owners. It’s your fear and insecurity.


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