Self-Defense in Georgia

Defense of Persons and Property in Georgia and the Effect of the “Stand Your Ground” Law

Self-defense is a justification defense where an individual is admitting that he or she committed the crime but claiming that his or her use of force was justified.

Self-defense is part of a broader set of statutes that define the situations in which a person is justified in using force. In Georgia, an individual is typically justified in using force to defend both persons and property. See O.C.G.A. § 16-3-21; O.C.G.A. § 16-3-23; O.C.G.A. § 16-3-24.

Determining whether an individual was justified in using force requires a multi-factor analysis which varies greatly depending on the specific facts of the encounter. Some of the factors include: who was the aggressor, whether the harm was imminent, whether the force was proportional, and whether the individual’s belief was reasonable.

The Individual Claiming Justification Cannot Be the Aggressor

An altercation can progress in stages, and the initial aggressor can become the innocent party if the other party escalates the altercation to a more violent level. Therefore, an individual who pulls out a knife during a fist fight can be deemed the aggressor even though the other individual initiated the fist fight. In this example, the individual wielding the knife can also withdraw from the confrontation by taking affirmative steps to indicate that he does not wish to fight any more. Such indications might include verbally communicating a desire to end the fight and walking away.

The Individual Must Believe that He or She is Defending Against the Imminent Use of Unlawful Force

The individual must believe that he or she is in imminent danger which means that the aggressor must appear to be capable of immediately carrying through with the threatened use of force. The individual can even be mistaken in their belief that he or she was threatened by imminent harm so long as the mistake is reasonable. If there has been a pause in the altercation (ie. the aggressor walks away) or additional steps must be taken before the aggressor can carry through with his or her threats then the danger is no longer imminent.

The Individual’s Use of Force Must Be Proportional to the Threatened Harm

Generally, force can be divided into two main categories, deadly and non-deadly. An individual’s use of force must be no greater than necessary to defend against the threatened harm. A citizen is typically justified in using any means of non-deadly force to defend persons or property, but deadly force is only justified in response to a threat of imminent deadly force. The use of a deadly weapon is almost always considered deadly force, but even someone’s fists could be considered deadly force when considering the difference in size between the two individuals and relative strength.

The Individual’s Belief that Force Was Necessary Must Be Reasonable

The standard by which reasonableness is measured is both subjective and objective. To satisfy the subjective standard, the individual must actually believe that force was necessary. This is where the individual’s prior dealings and experience with the aggressor can come into play. The objective standard looks at whether a reasonable person would have believed that force was necessary to defend against the threatened harm.

No Duty to Retreat – “Stand Your Ground” Law

In some states, an individual has a duty to retreat. However, Georgia has removed this requirement by passing a so-called “Stand Your Ground” law. O.C.G.A. § 16-3-23.1. Under this law, a citizen is not required to retreat from a violent confrontation. The key here is that an individual is not required to retreat, but the decision not to retreat can still factor into the previous considerations such as the reasonableness of the belief that force was necessary. Thus, this law does not give an individual unfettered discretion to use force.

Although Georgia has enacted statutory protections to allow an individual to stand his ground, one should not accept this protection as a license to kill. Any time deadly force is used, police will be involved and the decision to use deadly force will be scrutinized. It is always best to attempt to de-escalate a situation and avoid any loss of life. However, we recognize that these decisions can take place in a matter of seconds, and we are ready to protect your freedom. Call us today at 470-728-1725.

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Carl Chapman