Stand Your Ground / Self-Defense Laws in Georgia

A “stand your ground law” is a concept in self-defense law whereby a civilian defender, a potential victim, has no legal obligation to attempt retreat before they use force in defense of their lives or the lives of someone else.

This is a contentious concept in the United States, but one that ultimately reduces the risk undertaken by a civilian defender by eliminating a legal burden that might impact their decision-making process and reaction time in a time-is-life situation.

flag of the state of Georgia

Luckily for the residents of Georgia, their state has both excellent general self-defense laws and an entire section devoted to codifying their stance on the so-called stand your ground law. Georgia leaves no room for ambiguity when it comes to spelling out its citizen’s rights under the law.

I will provide you with a good summary below, and the relevant state statutes at the end of this article.

What You Need to Know

  • Georgia allows the use of force, including deadly force, in defense of life and limb; so long as you use the force to stop a roughly equivalent force being used illegally against yourself or someone else, you should be on the right side of the law.
  • Georgia also allows the use of lethal force to stop the commission of a forcible felony being committed against yourself or someone else.
  • Georgia does not allow the use of lethal force to stop mere unlawful entry unless that entry is being perpetrated in a “violent or tumultuous manner”, or the unlawful entry is otherwise being done with the intent of perpetrating violence against the people residing lawfully therein.

General Provisions

Georgia allows the use of force in defense only so long as the person using defensive force as a reasonable belief that that force is necessary to prevent the unlawful use of force against them or a third-party.

The statutes further codify that lethal force is only ever allowable in defense in order to prevent death or great bodily harm being inflicted upon oneself or a third party, or in order to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

What is a forcible felony? Something like robbery, burglary, rape, kidnapping, carjacking and the like. A forcible felony is one that involves the use of force against the victim. Grand larceny and the like, though felonies, are not typically classified as forcible felonies in most states.

The typical qualifier that allows a defender or potential victim to use force, and their defense is the fact that force has already or will imminently be used against them.

As stated above, Georgia has a special section that clearly states a defender has no obligation to retreat from any place that they may lawfully be prior to using force in defense so long as that use of force is otherwise justified.

Restrictions

The Georgia statutes are clear: you may not use lethal force in opposition to trespassing or simple unlawful entry.

Someone must be making a violent and tumultuous entry into an occupied dwelling to warrant lethal force in response, or any entry must be made with the reasonable determination that the people making unlawful entry intend to do harm two people residing within the occupied structure.

This is something of a fine line, and a topic on which you would be wise to study, research and seek legal advice on from an attorney who is experienced in Georgia’s use-of-force laws, particularly as they pertain to civilians.

Assessment

Georgia self-defense laws are generally excellent, and even take the extra step of instituting an entire section that codifies clearly their “stand your ground” provisions.

So long as a person has a reasonable belief that they or another person are in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, or a forcible entry is being attempted against an occupied structure, one has no duty to retreat from such an attack in Georgia.

Relevant Georgia Use of Force Statutes

16-3-21. Use of force in defense of self or others; evidence of belief that force was necessary in murder or manslaughter prosecution

(a) 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.

(b) A person is not justified in using force under the circumstances specified in subsection (a) of this Code section if he:

(1) 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) Is attempting to commit, committing, or fleeing after the commission or attempted commission of a felony; or

(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.

(c) Any rule, regulation, or policy of any agency of the state or any ordinance, resolution, rule, regulation, or policy of any county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state which is in conflict with this Code section shall be null, void, and of no force and effect.

(d) In a prosecution for murder or manslaughter, if a defendant raises as a defense a justification provided by subsection (a) of this Code section, the defendant, in order to establish the defendant’s reasonable belief that the use of force or deadly force was immediately necessary, may be permitted to offer:

(1) Relevant evidence that the defendant had been the victim of acts of family violence or child abuse committed by the deceased, as such acts are described in Code Sections 19-13-1 and 19-15-1, respectively; and

(2) Relevant expert testimony regarding the condition of the mind of the defendant at the time of the offense, including those relevant facts and circumstances relating to the family violence or child abuse that are the bases of the expert’s opinion.

16-3-23. Use of force in defense of habitation

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; however, such person is justified in the use of force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if:

(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.

6-3-23.1. No duty to retreat prior to use of force in self-defense

A person who uses threats or force in accordance with Code Section 16-3-21, relating to the use of force in defense of self or others, Code Section 16-3-23, relating to the use of force in defense of a habitation, or Code Section 16-3-24, relating to the use of force in defense of property other than a habitation, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and use force as provided in said Code sections, including deadly force.

16-3-24. Use of force in defense of property other than a habitation

(a) A person is justified in threatening or using force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such threat or force is necessary to prevent or terminate such other’s trespass on or other tortious or criminal interference with real property other than a habitation or personal property:

(1) Lawfully in his possession;

(2) Lawfully in the possession of a member of his immediate family; or

(3) Belonging to a person whose property he has a legal duty to protect.

(b) The use of force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to prevent trespass on or other tortious or criminal interference with real property other than a habitation or personal property is not justified unless the person using such force reasonably believes that it is necessary to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

16-3-24.1. Habitation and personal property defined

As used in Code Sections 16-3-23 and 16-3-24, the term “habitation” means any dwelling, motor vehicle, or place of business, and “personal property” means personal property other than a motor vehicle.

16-3-24.2. Immunity from prosecution; exception

A person who uses threats or force in accordance with Code Section 16-3-21, 16-3-23, 16-3-23.1, or 16-3-24 shall be immune from criminal prosecution therefor unless in the use of deadly force, such person utilizes a weapon the carrying or possession of which is unlawful by such person under Part 2 of Article 4 of Chapter 11 of this title.

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