Georgia Criminal Defense Blog

Explaining The Use of Force in Defense of Self or Others in Georgia

Posted by Richard Lawson | Jan 27, 2018 | 0 Comments

There are many misconceptions about self-defense in Georgia. The purpose of this blog is to provide clarity around the term and when it can be used as a valid defense in a Georgia Court. It is human nature to defend ourselves or others when our safety is threatened or when the safety of others is threatened. However, the Georgia Code defines acceptable self-defense and defense of others as the following..

The Use of Force in Defense of Self or Others in Georgia 

"A person is justified in threatening or using force against another when and to the extent that he or she reasonably believes that threat or force is necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person against such other's imminent use of unlawful force; however 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 commission of a forcible felony." O.C.G.A. §16-3-21. 

Let's analyze the use of deadly force regarding self-defense in Georgia and defense of others. First, the danger must be imminent, which means that the danger must be about to happen. Second, one must reasonably believe that such force is necessary to prevent death or significant bodily injury to himself or herself or a third person. The reasonable person standard is up to the jury. This means that the jury has to decide whether or not the accused person felt like their life was threatened or that they were in danger of serious bodily harm, and if a reasonable person would have had the same perception. Many things will be taken into account when the jury is determining deadly force including the particular circumstances of the case. The reasonable belief can be demonstrated by expert opinion or by historical evidence of the accused person experiencing child abuse or family violence by the deceased. When self-defense is legally allowed, a person in Georgia does not have a duty to retreat, and a person is allowed to use force in the defense of others.

Georgia considers the concept of someone who is physically or psychologically abused as the battered person syndrome, and it can be used as evidence in a claim of self-defense.  “A battered person syndrome is not separate defense, but battered person evidence is admissible to show that reasonable person who had suffered similar abuse would have reasonable belief that use of force was necessary, and in such cases, the court should give a jury instruction on that issue.” Smith v. State, 268 Ga. 196 (1997). The reasonable person standard changes when someone is found to have a battered person syndrome. The jury will consider whether a reasonable person possessing the same or similar psychological and physical characteristics would experience the same threat or danger and therefore, use the same force.

Now let's look at when using force in defense of self or others is not justified. First, if the person using force in defense has initially provoked the use of force with the intent of inflicting bodily harm upon the attacker, it is not justified. Next, if the person using force in defense is attempting to commit, committing, or leaving the commission of a felony or an attempted felony, it is not justified. And finally, if the person using force in defense was engaged in combat by agreement, it is not justified. 

If someone uses the defense of the use of force in defense of self or others and presents evidence that the use of said force was justified, then, “the state has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was not justified.” State v. Shepperd, 253 Ga. 321 (1984) 

Trying to prove that your use of force was justified to defend yourself or others can be difficult. Having a top-rated Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney is for more than just court; it is about having someone who understands your side of the story and is willing to fight for you. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation and to speak with a Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer.

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Managing Partner at Lawson & Berry:


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