Can You Stand Your Ground in Self Defense in Georgia?
Many Georgia residents want to be secure in knowing their homes, cars, and loved ones are safe. They may carry a gun at all times to protect themselves from robbery or attack. But do they need to retreat first, before opening fire? Or can you stand your ground in self defense in Georgia?
Self-Defense and Deadly Force for Attack Against a Person
Georgia law says that you don’t have to stand there and let crime happen to you. If you reasonably believe that someone is going to attack you (“imminent use of unlawful force”), you have a right to defend yourself. That doesn’t mean you can bring the proverbial gun to a knife fight, or overreact to a relatively minor act of aggression. Instead, you can only threaten or use force to the extent you believe is reasonably necessary to stop the force against you.
This is especially true in cases of deadly force, including defending yourself with a gun or knife. You are only justified in using force that will likely cause death or great bodily harm (like a gunshot) if you reasonably believe that level of force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to you or a third person. You are also never allowed to use self defense (deadly or otherwise) if:
- You were the initial aggressor
- You provoked the attack
- It happened as part of a felony or attempted felony
While Georgia allows most residents to carry a gun in public (if licensed to do so) and to keep firearms at home, you should make sure the threat is real, and you didn’t create it, before deciding to exercise self defense.
Can You Stand Your Ground or Do You Have a Duty to Retreat?
Most states have some form of self-defense law, but in some states, you have to have exhausted all your other options first. This is often called a duty to retreat. It says if you are able, you have to take reasonable steps to avoid the attack before defending yourself.
Georgia has no such law. The Georgia self-defense law gives you the right to stand your ground and use reasonable force to defend yourself or others, even if you could have run away instead. This is true if you are approached on the street, in your car, or even in your own home. The determination if you were legally standing your ground will be based on where the defensive action took place and whether you were standing your ground to defend a person, property, or a habitation (a house or potentially a vehicle) or land.
The Castle Doctrine and Protecting Your Home
There is an old saying: “A man’s home is his castle.” When that castle comes under siege, the king has the right to protect it. Translated into modern day, the “Castle Doctrine” says that you may use reasonable force to defend your home or other property. The “Stand Your Ground” law applies here, too. You do not have to retreat from your home before deciding to use force to protect it.
Unlike the self-defense statute, you don’t have to believe you will be physically attacked and are in danger of death or great bodily injury. The Castle Doctrine applies anytime you believe threats or force are necessary to prevent unlawful entry or remove a trespasser from your home. You may also use an appropriate level of force to protect property in your possession or belonging to a family member or someone you have a legal duty to protect.
However, just like in self-defense, the rules get a bit tighter if you are using deadly force. Force that is likely to cause death or great bodily harm is only justified under the Castle Doctrine if:
- The trespasser made a violent or tumultuous entry and intends to do you or someone in the home physical harm
- A non-family member who doesn’t live in the home forcibly enters the property
- You reasonably believe the person has entered into your home and is on the property to commit a felony.
- You are defending your home (habitation), not merely your land or yard. (Sometimes a vehicle can be considered a habitation.)
The castle doctrine does not apply if preventing a trespass or entry onto your land or property not defined as habitation. While you can stand your ground, you may only use deadly force to prevent a trespass or entry onto your land to prevent a felony or to defend human life.
The Practical Realities of Self Defense Cases
It has also been said that “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.” Self-defense and Stand Your Ground laws say you may be justified in threatening, harming, or even killing another person as long as what you did was reasonable. The trouble is defining reasonable. Police and prosecutors will nearly always err on the side of caution. That means if you choose to stand your ground and defend your castle, you should expect to be questioned, likely arrested, and charged with assault, manslaughter, or even murder.
It is imperative that you ask for the assistance of an attorney before making a statement or talking with law enforcement. Depending on the jurisdiction, you will find that a large number of officers will agree with the right to self defense. In other jurisdictions, the act of self defense, especially if a firearm is used, will result in police questioning that is not designed to help establish self defense. If you or a loved one has been forced to resort to self defense, the person giving the statement to police will most likely be in a state of shock and will most likely fail to mention crucial facts that establish self defense.
That’s because self-defense and the Castle Doctrine aren’t exceptions to the rules against murder or physical assault. They are defenses that justify otherwise illegal behavior. That means you and your criminal defense attorney will have the job of proving what you did was reasonable to the jury in a high-stakes criminal court.
Self-defense cases can be won if properly prepared from the beginning. Fact witness testimony as well the potential use of experts who can testify about what happened through crime scene reconstruction, and what each person may have seen or believed under the circumstances. If you acted in response to domestic violence, you may also need to present evidence of a pattern of domestic abuse by the deceased that will be painful to recount. Your criminal defense attorney will discuss with you the steps necessary to present a justification defense. Specifically, your attorney will discuss the pros and cons of filing and arguing an immunity motion before the court. Basically, if you meet the proper conditions to set forth the basis of self defense, an immunity motion may result in a dismissal of the charges before the case is tried before a jury.
The Stand Your Ground laws are not designed to promote taking justice into your own hands. Instead, they provide a defense for those who find themselves under attack. If you have had to resort to force to avoid an attack, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney who can stand with you from arrest through trial and can help you show that what you were forced to do was justified to protect yourself, your home, or your loved ones from harm. Remember, it is always better to be judged by twelve than to be carried by six.
At the McCoy Law Firm, LLC, our experienced criminal defense attorneys know how to work with the state’s defenses to protect our clients rights. We have worked on self-defense and stand your ground cases before, and know what to expect from police, prosecutors, judges, and jurors. If you have been charged with a crime for defending yourself, please contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia so we can begin working on your case right away.