Georgia Stand Your Ground Law

Georgia is among the growing number of states with Stand Your Ground laws, but they can be confusing and the wrong interpretation can land you in jail.
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A Guide to Georgia Stand Your Ground Law

Joseph Conoscienti Atlanta AttorneyAuthor: Joseph A. Conoscienti, Partner, Conoscienti & Ledbetter

Mr. Conoscienti specializes in criminal law but likewise has experience in general civil trial practice. Joseph Conoscienti is a part-time Associate Judge for the Municipality of Avonndale Estates, Georgia. Published on October 8, 2018, last updated on June 13, 2019.

The Stand Your Ground Law in Georgia was created to provide protection for citizens who feel their life is being threatened in their own home. Naturally, these cases are never clear-cut and exceptions to the law are common. Better understand your rights, what happens in a Stand Your Ground situation and how your life might be impacted by the judicial system.

Particularly in cases of Stand Your Ground Law, you need to contact an experienced lawyer as soon as you can for a free initial case review and to explore your legal rights and your possible case.

Stand Your Ground Law Georgia

One of our most fundamental rights is the right to protect ourselves, our property, and our loved ones from harm. Georgia is among the growing number of states that have self-defense laws on the books. These laws, more commonly known as “Stand Your Ground” laws, were created to protect individuals from facing criminal charges if they kill someone while defending themselves or another.

The concept of self-defense is codified in the state of Georgia under Georgia Code Section 16-3-21. This statute defines the justifiable use of force as: Using force to protect yourself or a third party when you have a reasonable belief that your life is in danger at the hands of another. As the state explains, “a person is justified in threatening or using force against another when and to the extent that he or she reasonably believes that such threat or force is necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person against such other´s imminent use of unlawful force; however, except as provided in Code Section 16-3-23, a person is justified in using force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or herself or a third person or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” 

Justifiable Homicide in Georgia

The key words for any defense in Stand Your Ground cases are force and intent. For more than a century, it has been legally justifiable to kill someone in Georgia while defending your own life. However, when the other party is dead, the line between defending your own life and murder can become blurry. Such cases as the shooting death of Trayvon Martin have made this debate a major part of public discourse in recent years.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation records shows 21 cases of justifiable homicide in the state since 2003. They define such cases as those where a person shot or killed someone claiming self-defense, police were called to the scene, and no criminal action on the part of the perpetrator was found. There are some who believe that no homicide is justified, but many prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, and gun rights advocates disagree. As far back as 1898, Georgia’s Supreme Court has ruled that you have a right to use deadly force if you believe your own life is in danger, and not attempting to escape or diffuse the situation first is not a determining factor in guilt.

Particularly in cases of stand your ground law, you need to contact an experienced lawyer as soon as you can for a free initial case review and to explore your legal rights and your possible case.

Georgia’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law Explained

Although self-defense laws, including the right to use deadly force, have been around for more than 100 years, Georgia only expanded and clarified Stand Your Ground laws in 2006. It’s also the first state to have the constitutionality of this law be reviewed at the federal level. The law itself is really cut and dried: If you believe your life is in danger, you have the right to kill to defend yourself. In states with no Stand Your Ground laws on the books, killing your attacker must be the last resort.

Since the law officially went into effect, the rate of Stand Your Ground-related deaths has doubled from seven per year to 13. Critics of the law are troubled by this trend, but proving self-defense is actually harder than it appears. Police report that a large number of suspects in a gang or drug-related shootings attempt to claim self-defense. In several notable cases, murder suspects have claimed self-defense under rather dubious circumstances. As states begin to legalize marijuana for medical purposes or in a recreational capacity, the potential for fewer drug-related homicides is certainly a possibility. 

One notable case involves a woman, Lona Scott, who shot her husband 14 times after she learned that he drained their bank account and was planning to divorce her. Her defense was that her death was imminent (although not necessarily in that moment) if she didn’t kill him first. Her first trial resulted in a hung jury, and she was acquitted after her second trial. Depending on your situation, you could be facing murder charges or aggravated assault in Georgia

Another case that wasn’t so murky was the case of Lewis Moore. In 2010, he shot Yuhanna Abdulah Williams in the face after an attempted car-jacking at knife-point. There were no charges filed in that case.

Georgia Self Defense Laws

Self-defense and use of force are outlined under Georgia Code Section 16-3-21. There’s a distinction drawn between reasonable force and deadly force. The amount of force used must be no greater than is necessary to repel the danger. Deadly force is justified only in cases where you believe that your life or the life of a third party is in imminent danger of death or bodily harm or to prevent an act of violence against another.

There are three exclusions to self-defense laws in Georgia:

  • You are the initial aggressor
  • Force is used during the commission of a felony or while attempting to leave the scene of a felony; for example, killing someone who is attempting to shoot you after you rob a bank doesn’t count as self-defense.
  • Using deadly force to protect property other than your home

You also can’t be involved in a mutually violent action, like getting into a fist fight with someone, shooting them, and claiming self-defense after.

Particularly in cases of stand your ground law, you need to contact an experienced lawyer as soon as you can for a free initial case review and to explore your legal rights and your possible case.

Georgia Castle Law

Although you’re allowed to use reasonable force to protect yourself or another in Georgia, is it always justifiable to kill someone in self-defense? The recent case of a Georgia resident killing someone who was breaking into their home brought this issue back to the forefront recently. Many residents believe in the “Castle Doctrine” that allows you to use any means necessary to protect hearth and home. But, that isn’t always the case.

Deadly force is only justified under the Georgia Castle Law within a narrow set of circumstances:

  • The break-in must be violent and disruptive
  • The person breaking in can’t be a relative or household member who would ordinarily be allowed to enter your home
  • You believe the person broke into your home with the intent to commit a crime, and deadly force was the only way to prevent it.

The premise of the Castle Law is that you are the king or queen of your castle, and you have the right to defend it. However, the above conditions differentiate it from Stand Your Ground laws by putting conditions on shooting intruders. Stand Your Ground states that there are no conditions or relationships that quantify defending your life.

Under Castle Laws, you can’t shoot a family member, and the break-in must be forceful or perpetrated by someone who is armed and dangerous. For example, shooting your intoxicated neighbor who accidentally walks into the wrong house, and then claiming you feared for your life wouldn’t count unless they were also violent and threatened you. Shooting a stranger who kicks in your door or appears in your bedroom in the middle of the night armed would.

Georgia Stand Your Ground Lawyer

Although the law provides a lot of latitude in Stand Your Ground cases, not all of them are as open and shut as being robbed with a knife at your throat. Many times, there are no witnesses to the incident. It’s those types of situations where having a qualified Stand Your Ground lawyer could mean the difference between vindication and incarceration.

There are many cases of claimed self-defense in the news that have divided us as a society. No matter which side of the gun rights divide you’re on, most of us can agree that in a life and death struggle, you have a right to defend yourself. Not all cases are so obvious. That’s why you need to hire an experienced lawyer who has a proven track record of successfully defending self-defense or Stand Your Ground cases. But, you don’t have to take it from us, USA Carry provides a concise list of things to look for in an attorney if you’ve been involved in a Stand Your Ground situation in Georgia and may require legal assistance. As we’ve highlighted, these cases are never open and shut, and when it’s your freedom on the line – it’s better safe than sorry. 

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315 W Ponce de Leon Ave. Suite 400 Decatur, GA 30030

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324 Broad Street, Rome, Georgia 30161

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