While Mr. Gibson testified that Ms. Turner attacked him first (pulling out his dreadlock), the trial court sat in the best position to weigh the credibility of the witnesses and was free to believe or disbelieve her testimony (that she accidentally pulled out his dreadlock as she fell after being pushed). And in fact, on the record, the trial court noted that Ms. Turner seemed very credible while testifying while Mr. Gibson seemed to be a less reliable witness.
State v. Gibson
2023 – Ohio – 1640
First District Appellate Court
Hamilton County, Ohio
May 17, 2023
On the evening of Sunday February 13, 2022, Superbowl Sunday, Ms. Seretha Turner drove to Mr. Garland Gibson’s residence to pick up two of their children (she had picked up the third the day before). A swirling exchange of angry texts between the pair preceded her arrival, and by the time she pulled up, it was clear that Mr. Gibson was intoxicated (and angry). Ms. Turner waited a few minutes, and then her children wandered outside on the cold evening without their coats on, which irritated her. She stepped out of the car as Mr. Gibson followed the children out of the home.
Conflicting Stories How Mr. Gibson’s Dreadlock Fell Off
At that point, Ms. Turner noticed that Mr. Gibson was stomping towards her car, and she realized that his anger was directed toward her daughter, already situated in the car. Ms. Turner, in an attempt to protect her daughter, stepped forward to stop Mr. Gibson. She testified that, as she stood in his way, he pushed her to the ground and, as she reached out to try to prevent herself from falling, one of his dreadlocks got tangled in her fingers and fell off. Mr. Gibson, on the other hand, testified that she attacked him first, pulling out one of his dreadlocks, and that she fell down as he defensively pushed her off of him. Despite these disparate accounts, both parties agree that Mr. Gibson was threatening to physically punish their daughter when Ms. Turner intervened.
Violence Increased but was it Self-Defense?
Following this violent interaction, the children in the car began to cry and scream. Their eldest daughter hurled a curse word towards Mr. Gibson, which further enraged him. He continued approaching the car, admonishing his daughter not to use that kind of language and again threatening to physically punish her. Ms. Turner pulled herself up from the ground and once again inserted herself between Mr. Gibson and the children in the car. Undeterred, Mr. Gibson threw her back to the ground.
Eventually, Mr. Gibson walked inside his residence, and Ms. Turner called the police. The police arrived at the scene about a half hour later and spoke with both individuals. Ms. Turner showed the police her injured fingers and complained of a sore side. She immediately left for the hospital after departing from Mr. Gibson’s residence, and the doctor who treated her diagnosed bruised ribs from the falls.
Mr. Gibson is Arrested, is Found Guilty, Sentenced and Appeals
Police arrested Mr. Gibson that same night and the state charged him with domestic violence under O.R.C. §2919.25(A). A protective order followed. In April 2022, following a bench trial, the court found Mr. Gibson guilty. At a subsequent sentencing hearing, he received a suspended sentence of 180 days in jail with credit for time served. He was sentenced to 11 months of probation, which included requirements that he remain employed and have no contact with his family until he made progress with alcohol abuse treatment.
After receiving leave by this court to file a delayed appeal, Mr. Gibson appealed, insisting that his domestic violence conviction was against the manifest weight of the evidence due to his self-defense claim. Mr. Gibson insists that his domestic violence conviction was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence where the weight of the evidence established that he acted in self-defense.
Mr. Gibson Appeals Based on a Claim of Self-Defense
Pursuant to R.C. 2919.25(A), “[N]o person shall knowingly cause or attempt to cause physical harm to a family or household member.” Mr. Gibson does not contest that he and Ms. Turner share three children, nor that he twice pushed her away from him. Rather, he maintains that he took his actions in self-defense, and he challenges the trial court’s rejection of this argument.
Established Case Law on the Self-Defense Doctrine
Ohio’s recently amended self-defense law requires that, “[I]f there is evidence presented at trial that tends to support that the defendant used force against another in self-defense or in defense of another, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not use the force in self-defense or defense of another.” State v. Smith, 2020-Ohio-4976, O.R.C. §2901.05(B)(1). “Once the initial showing is made, the burden of persuasion requires the state to disprove at least one of the elements of self-defense … beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Burden of Proof Reasonable Doubt Self Defense O.R.C. §2901.05(B)(1)
A person is allowed to act in self-defense, defense of another, or defense of that person’s residence. If, at the trial of a person who is accused of an offense that involved the person’s use of force against another, there is evidence presented that tends to support that the accused person used the force in self-defense, defense of another, or defense of that person’s residence, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused person did not use the force in self-defense, defense of another, or defense of that person’s residence, as the case may be.
Here, the fact that Mr. Gibson lost a dreadlock during the altercation tends to support a conclusion that he acted in self-defense. Therefore, the burden shifted to the state to disprove self-defense by establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant:
(1) Was at fault in creating the situation giving rise to the affray;
(2) Did not have reasonable grounds to believe or an honest belief that he or she was in imminent danger of bodily harm; or
(3) Violated a duty to retreat or avoid the danger.
Citing State v. Carney, 2020- Ohio-2691
Disproving Self Defense
“The state need only disprove one of the elements of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.” Therefore, in evaluating a manifest weight challenge involving self-defense, we must review the entire record, consider the credibility of witnesses, and determine whether the trier of fact clearly lost its way and created a manifest miscarriage of justice with respect to its finding that the state disproved at least one of the elements of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. See State v. Thompkins, 78 Ohio St.3d at 387 (1997)
Conflicting Stories – Establishing who was Primary Aggressor?
Mr. Gibson suggests that he was not at fault in creating the situation leading to him injuring Ms. Turner because she attacked him first. However, both individuals testified that Mr. Gibson was threatening to physically punish their daughter and approaching their daughter in anger. Ms. Turner testified that he attacked her as she attempted to prevent him from harming their daughter. Had Mr. Gibson not issued these threats or attempted to physically confront his daughter, it is reasonable to assume that the dispute leading to Ms. Turner’s injuries never would have occurred. While Mr. Gibson testified that Ms. Turner attacked him first (pulling out his dreadlock), the trial court sat in the best position to weigh the credibility of the witnesses and was free to believe or disbelieve her testimony (that she accidentally pulled out his dreadlock as she fell after being pushed). And in fact, on the record, the trial court noted that Ms. Turner seemed very credible while testifying while Mr. Gibson seemed to be a less reliable witness.
Law Enforcement, the Trial Court and the First District Appellate Court all Agree that Mr. Gibson was the Primary Aggressor and he was not Acting in Self Defense
On this record, we cannot say that the trial court clearly lost its way or created a manifest miscarriage of justice in determining that the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Gibson was at fault in creating the situation that led to him harming Ms. Turner. And because the state must disprove beyond a reasonable doubt just one of the elements of self-defense, Mr. Gibson’s arguments with respect to the second and third elements are moot.
In light of the foregoing analysis, we overrule Mr. Gibson’s sole assignment of error and affirm the trial court’s judgment.
Information for this case was obtained from State v. Gibson, 2023 – Ohio – 1640.
State v. Gibson, 2023 – Ohio – 1640 was issued by the First District Appellate Court on May 17, 2023 and is binding in Hamilton County, Ohio.
- Primary Aggressor – This case provides application of both establishing the primary aggressor and the self-defense doctrine. To evaluate who is the primary aggressor the state legislature has provided elements in O.R.C. §2935.03(B) In determining … which family or household member is the primary physical aggressor … a peace officer … should consider all of the following: (i) History of Domestic Violence, (ii) Was the person in acting in self-defense, (iii) Each person fear … and reasonableness of that fear, (iv) Comparative severity of any injuries suffered by the persons involved in the alleged offense.
- Self Defense – The Self-Defense Doctrine was last updated by the legislature on April 6, 2021 shifts the burden of proof from the defendant to the prosecution. The burden of proof that the person, in this case Mr. Gibson, did not use force in self-defense lies with him. Ultimately the trial court and the First District Appellate Court determined that Mr. Gibson did not use force in self-defense “[B]oth individuals testified that Mr. Gibson was threatening to physically punish their daughter and approaching their daughter in anger. Ms. Turner testified that he attacked her as she attempted to prevent him from harming their daughter. Had Mr. Gibson not issued these threats or attempted to physically confront his daughter, it is reasonable to assume that the dispute leading to Ms. Turner’s injuries never would have occurred.”.
- Hardest Job in America – This case is demonstrative of the many factual situations that make law enforcement THE hardest job in America. When officers arrive, many disputants are in a highly charged emotional state, yelling, cursing and acting unreasonably. Who did what to whom is very challenging to unwind in the moment. Here, the officers made good decisions with limited facts, so much so that both the trial court and First District Appellate Court agreed with the decisions of law enforcement.
Contact me at https://www.objectivelyreasonable.com/contact/
Don’t fail your training.
Don’t let your training fail you!
Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!