Martin v. Ohio
480 U.S. 228 (1987)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Martin v. Ohio, 480 U.S. 228 (1987)

Martin v. Ohio

No. 85-6461

Argued December 2, 1986

Decided February 25, 1987

480 U.S. 228

Syllabus

Under the Ohio Revised Code (Code), the burden of proving the elements of a criminal offense is upon the prosecution, but, for an affirmative defense, the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence is placed on the accused. Self-defense is an affirmative defense under Ohio law, and therefore must be proved by the defendant. Petitioner was charged by Ohio with aggravated murder, which is defined as "purposely, and with prior calculation and design, causing the death of another." She pleaded self-defense, and testified that she had shot and killed her husband when he came at her following an argument during which he had struck her. As to the crime itself, the jury was instructed (1) that, to convict, it must find, in light of all the evidence, that each of the elements of aggravated murder was proved by the State beyond reasonable doubt, and that the burden of proof with respect to those elements did not shift; and (2) that, to find guilt, it must be convinced that none of the evidence, whether offered by the State or by petitioner in connection with her self-defense plea, raised a reasonable doubt that she had killed her husband, that she had the specific purpose and intent to cause his death, or that she had done so with prior calculation and design. However, as to self-defense, the jury was instructed that it could acquit if it found by a preponderance of the evidence that petitioner had proved (1) that she had not precipitated the confrontation with her husband; (2) that she honestly believed she was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that her only means of escape was to use force; and (3) that she had satisfied any duty to retreat or avoid danger. The jury found her guilty, and both the Ohio Court of Appeals and Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, rejecting petitioner's Due Process Clause challenge, which was based on the charge's placing on her the self-defense burden of proof. In reaching its decision, the State Supreme Court relied on Patterson v. New York,432 U. S. 197.

Held:

1. Neither Ohio law nor the above instructions violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by shifting to petitioner the State's burden of proving the elements of the crime. The instructions, when read as a whole, do not improperly suggest that self-defense evidence could not be considered in determining whether there was reasonable doubt about the sufficiency of the State's proof of the crime's elements.

Page 480 U. S. 229

Furthermore, simply because evidence offered to support self-defense might negate a purposeful killing by prior calculation and design does not mean that elements of the crime and self-defense impermissibly overlap, since evidence creating a reasonable doubt about any fact necessary for a finding of guilt could easily fall far short of proving self-defense by a preponderance of the evidence, but, on the other hand, a killing will be excused if self-defense is satisfactorily established even if there is no reasonable doubt in the jury's mind that the defendant is guilty. Pp. 480 U. S. 233-234.

2. It is not a violation of the Due Process Clause for Ohio to place the burden of proving self-defense on a defendant charged with committing aggravated murder. There is no merit to petitioner's argument that it is necessary under Ohio law for the State to disprove self-defense, since both unlawfulness and criminal intent are elements of serious offenses, while self-defense renders lawful that which would otherwise be a crime, and negates a showing of criminal intent. The Court will follow Ohio courts that have rejected this argument, holding that unlawfulness in such cases is the conduct satisfying the elements of aggravated murder, and that the necessary mental state for this crime is the specific purpose to take life pursuant to prior calculation and design. Furthermore, the mere fact that all but two States have abandoned the common law rule that affirmative defenses, including self-defense, must be proved by the defendant does not render that rule unconstitutional. The Court will follow Patterson and other of its decisions which allowed States to fashion their own affirmative defense burden of proof rules. Pp. 480 U. S. 235-236

21 Ohio St.3d 91, 488 N.E.2d 166, affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and III of which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 480 U. S. 236.

Page 480 U. S. 230

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