The Newnan Times-Herald

Opinion

When deadly force is legal


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Aug. 22, 2019 - 5:50 PM

When deadly force is legal

The Newnan Times-Herald

“Direct threats require decisive action.” – former two-term Vice President, Secretary of Defense and longtime patriot Richard Cheney.

First, I want to be crystal clear that I cannot responsibly provide broad legal advice in this column. However, the subject matter herein should be known by our citizens.

To fully understand when it is legal to use deadly force in Georgia, consult with a criminal defense attorney regarding the specific facts of your situation. Always consider any type of force the last alternative when being confronted by an aggressor.

But, always be prepared to protect yourself and your family.

If that last resort becomes necessary, below you will find a summary governing the use of deadly force in the Peach State. For the purposes of this column, we will use a firearm as an example.

Castle Doctrine – This is the bedrock principle of self-defense in America. If someone
breaks or is breaking into your home, you can shoot them, legally, if you “reasonably” believe such force is required to stop the “unlawful entry into or attack upon a habitation.”

But the law has three important provisions:

1. The intrusion is “violent and tumultuous” and the resident believes its purpose is “assaulting or offering personal violence” to someone inside;

2. The intruder is not a member of the family or household – who may have lost his key or is returning late – and

3. The resident believes the intruder broke in to commit a felony and deadly force is required to stop it.

Stand Your Ground – Outside a home, killing to defend yourself or others gets more
scrutiny.

In Georgia, you must “reasonably” believe deadly force is “necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury” to you or someone else, or it’s the only way to stop “a forcible felony.” 

Armed robbery is a forcible felony. Theft by shoplifting is not.

For over a decade, Georgia has provided that a person who uses threats or force relating to the use of force in defense of self or others has no duty to retreat or run away and has a right to stand his or her ground and use force. However, that person must be reasonably in fear of death or serious bodily harm when using such force. When words like “reasonable” are used in criminal statutes, great care must be used.

Also, keep in mind that “stand your ground” means just that. It does not mean you’re justified in pursuing someone who’s no longer a threat. You cannot shoot someone who has disengaged and is running away.

Additionally, violence is justified only in stopping or preventing other violence; not property loss.

For instance, a few months ago in Carrollton, thieves took countless items on the properties of our citizens, including me. Thanks to the hard work of the Carrollton Police Department and the community, the thieves were apprehended. But, if I was in my yard when one of them was rummaging through my car stealing everything in it, I could not walk over to him and shoot him.

Self Defense – The self-defense law has exceptions even when you personally feel
threatened. You are not justified in using deadly force if:

1. You’re the instigator. You can’t provoke someone to attack you with the intent of using
deadly force in response;

2. You’re the one committing the felony. If someone’s using force to stop you from committing a crime, you legally cannot assault them and claim self-defense; and

3. You are fighting by agreement. Like the first exception, you can’t start a fistfight and then
fatally stab your unarmed combatant to stop it, unless you withdraw, and your opponent
continues to use or threaten to use unlawful force. (Think of bar fights.)

When killing a man, the best-case scenario is that you lawfully protected yourself or another from a violent attack. However, not all legal gun owners just walk back inside the home.

Instead, some are charged with murder.

Fortunately, there are organizations, like the United States Concealed Carry Association
(USCCA) that provide an attorney strike force to protect law abiding citizens who are accused of unlawful shootings. I am honored to serve as part of this team in Georgia.

For more information regarding USCCA, go to www.usconcealedcarry.com .

Know the law. Exercise restraint. Protect your family. Teach others to do the same.

Jason Swindle is a criminal-defense attorney and college professor in Carrollton.