Can I Claim Self Defense in My Case?
Sometimes people are charged with a crime such as Battery, Aggravated Assault, or even Murder despite acting in defense of themselves, their property, or another person. The question that almost always comes up in these cases is: When and how am I allowed to defend myself?
It is important to distinguish between the use of force and deadly force in defending oneself. Deadly force is, "which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm." While that is often the use of a firearm, it can also include the use of a vehicle or a baseball bat. Any other force would be force that does not to rise to that level.
To determine when force is justified, the law in Georgia says, "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." That means that when it is reasonable to use force to defend against unlawful force or imminent use of unlawful force, it is justified.
Another common question: What is reasonable in terms of how threats are perceived? Reasonable is not what that individual person thinks, but rather the general reasonable man. So someone who thinks it is reasonable to punch someone in the face because they thought a dirty look from someone meant that person was about to use unlawful force against them would likely not be justified under the law.
Also, there are specific circumstances where one is NOT allowed to raise a self defense claim:
1. If a person, "initially provokes the use of force against himself with the intent to use such force as an excuse to inflict bodily harm upon the assailant"
2. If a person is in the process of attempting, committing, or fleeing a separate felony crime on their own during the use of force.
3. "Was the aggressor or was engaged in a combat by agreement unless he withdraws from the encounter and effectively communicates to such other person his intent to do so and the other, notwithstanding, continues or threatens to continue the use of unlawful force."
Force can also be used to defend one's habitation, or home: "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 prevent or terminate such other's unlawful entry into or attack upon a habitation." To use deadly force to defend one's home, there are 3 circumstances when that is allowed:
(1) The entry is made or attempted in a violent and tumultuous manner and he or she reasonably believes that the entry is attempted or made for the purpose of assaulting or offering personal violence to any person dwelling or being therein and that such force is necessary to prevent the assault or offer of personal violence;
(2) That force is used against another person who is not a member of the family or household and who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence and the person using such force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred; or
(3) The person using such force reasonably believes that the entry is made or attempted for the purpose of committing a felony therein and that such force is necessary to prevent the commission of the felony.
With a proper filing, any person is entitled to a pre-trial hearing in front of a Judge to determine if they are immune from prosecution because their actions were justified. Even if a Judge denies an immunity claim, a self defense claim can still be raised at trial. The act itself must be admitted. That is, you cannot raise a self defense claim and also say you did not commit the act which was done in self defense.
If you are charged with a crime but believe you acted in defense of yourself, home, or others, please contact me.