What are the Rules on Self Defense in Georgia?
People have a fundamental right to protect themselves and others from harm. A valid assertion of self-defense can mean the difference between a felony conviction and a finding of not guilty. It is a life-changing defense; therefore, it's worth pursuing if it applies to the incident you are being investigated or charged with committing.
As a former prosecuting attorney, I know how a prosecutor will attempt to refute a claim of self-defense. As a criminal defense attorney, I use that knowledge to present a strong case. If you have been charged with a crime in Atlanta, Georgia, or throughout the state, including Carroll, Coweta, Cobb, Cumming, Dekalb, Douglas, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, or Lawrenceville counties, and you believe you acted in self-defense, contact my firm, Kyle H. Jarzmik Law. I have the experience, compassion, and resources to build a strong defense and get you on the correct path.
What Constitutes Self-Defense?
Self-defense, or "Justification," under Georgia statutes is the justified use of force to protect yourself or others from an aggressor’s imminent use of unlawful force or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. The rules for self-defense in Georgia apply to both the occurrence of the threat or a reasonable belief that an aggressor will use force.
Self-defense is often used in cases involving domestic violence, assault, and murder. An event involving any of these, in and of itself, is not enough to prove you acted in self-defense. There are standards under the law that apply.
Can Self-Defense Be Used as a Legal Defense?
Your right to defend yourself or others means you can use that right to defend yourself against a criminal charge. However, to build a legal defense around a claim of self-defense, the subject event must have demonstrated certain characteristics, including imminent danger, reasonable belief that a threat exists, reasonable force, and who initiated the aggression.
You must reasonably believe that you or someone else is in imminent danger of harm. This means you can protect yourself during the threat but cannot use force once the moment of danger has passed, for example, once an armed thief is running away from your home.
You don’t have to wait for someone to show you a weapon or let them act before you take action. As long as there is a reasonable belief that someone is threatening you or others, you can act in self-defense. For example, if someone enters a convenience store swinging a baseball bat and you shove them into a set of shelves, you likely acted in self-defense if you were in danger of immediate physical harm. The perceived thief cannot claim that you assaulted them later.
You must have responded to the threat with reasonable force. If someone shoves you in a fight, you have a right to defend yourself, but you can’t do so by stabbing them with a knife or shooting them. However, you can likely shove them back if the threat of force still exists, and if they are harmed when you do, you can claim self-defense. Nonetheless, using deadly force, when commensurate with the force of the aggressor, is protected under Georgia law. You can use deadly force to protect yourself against imminent deadly force or serious bodily harm. But if you chose to fire a weapon, there is a chance that you will be charged with Reckless Conduct, Aggravated Assault, or even Murder if someone is killed.
Finally, you cannot claim self-defense if you were the initial aggressor. If you’re wondering, “What if someone hit me first? Can I defend myself?” you can, so long as you respond with reasonable action in an immediate time frame. It does not give you a "free shot" to hit them ten minutes after the altercation ended. However, if you hit them first and they responded, or even if you taunted them and initiated the fight, you likely cannot claim self-defense.
It is vital to speak with a reliable criminal defense attorney about your options regarding your situation.
Is There a Duty to Retreat in Georgia?
Georgia is what is known as a “Stand Your Ground” state. Here, there is no duty to retreat from imminent danger before defending yourself or others. As long as the threat is reasonably imminent, you can use force to protect yourself without being required to first try to get away from the threat.
Stand your ground is broader than what is referred to as the “Castle Doctrine.” The latter is allowable only in protecting your home. Stand your ground allows you to protect yourself or others no matter where you are in the State of Georgia.
Fight for Your Rights
You have a right to protect yourself and others, and when you do so, fight for your rights under a claim of self-defense. Unless the prosecution can prove otherwise, you may have criminal charges dismissed or be found not guilty of them.
If you are under investigation or have been charged with a crime for which you believe you acted in self-defense, contact me at Kyle H. Jarzmik Law in Atlanta, Georgia. I can inform you about the circumstances and your right to protect yourself. Call now.