Court: Victim History Not Evidence In Self-Defense Claim

By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - People trying to prove they acted in self defense can't present evidence of their victims' previous violent acts to support their claims, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

Justice Deborah Cook, writing for the majority, said Ohio law allows evidence of specific instances of conduct to be introduced only when the victim's character "is an essential element of a charge, claim, or defense."

"A defendant may successfully assert self-defense without resort to proving any aspect of a victim's character," she wrote.

The court's 5-2 ruling requires an appeals court to reinstate a man's convictions for involuntary manslaughter and felonious assault with a deadly weapon.

Marcus Barnes was convicted of fatally stabbing Christopher Warwin and assaulting Christopher DeAngelis during a fight at a party the three attended in Kent in 1997.

At trial, Barnes' attorneys tried to introduce evidence of specific instances in which Warwin instigated violence to show that Warwin had a "propensity for violence." The Portage County Common Pleas Court barred the evidence.

His attorneys appealed Barnes' convictions the 11th Ohio District Court of Appeals. They said that the trial court improperly barred them from introducing evidence that was crucial to demonstrating that Warwin was the aggressor.

In 2000, the appeals court sided with Barnes' attorneys, reversing the convictions and ordering a new trial so that evidence about Warwin's character could be considered.

Justices Paul Pfeifer and Andrew Douglas dissented from the majority.

"Evidence of the victim's character offered in the form of specific instances of his conduct could have been employed by this defendant to establish the first element of self-defense: That he was not at fault in creating the situation giving rise to the affray," Pfeifer wrote.

Without explaining why, Douglas said that he would have upheld the appeals court's ruling.

Barnes, 27, is serving a 15-year sentence in the Trumbull Correctional Institution in Leavittsburg in northeast Ohio.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)