Self Defense in Georgia
When people feel threatened or even see another being threatened, sometimes the reaction is to use force to defend and occasionally, deadly force. There are situations where the use of deadly force is justified, and the accused will not be charged with a crime. This is called the use of force in defense of self or others. However, some criteria must be met before their actions can be justified. The Office of Lawson and Berry and their team of Criminal Defense Attorneys are here to help you justify your use of force in defense of yourself or others. We understand the intricacies of this defense and are here to help you. This defense is difficult to present on your own so do not sacrifice your case because you tried to do it on your own. Contact our offices today for a free case evaluation.
Georgia Law on the Use of Force in Defense of Self or Others
O.C.G.A. §16-3-21 outlines this defense and when it is accepted and when it is not.
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.
Essentially, two elements that must be present before the use of deadly force is justified:
- The danger to either himself or a third person must be imminent; and
- He must reasonably believe that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to self or a third person.
If the charged crime is manslaughter or murder, and the accused argues self defense or defense of others as a justification for their actions, then the accused must establish that their reasonable belief that the use of force or deadly force was immediately necessary. This can be shown by:
- Relevant evidence that the accused had been the victim of acts of family violence or child abuse committed by the deceased; or
- Relevant expert testimony regarding the condition of the mind of the accused at the time of the crime; including relevant facts and circumstances relating to the family violence of child abuse that is the basis of the expert's opinion.
How is What is Reasonable Determined?
It is up to the jury to decide whether the accused's fears were ones that a reasonable person would have also had. Therefore, there is no set standard for what is reasonable. The jury will look at the particular circumstances of the case and determine whether it was necessary to use deadly force.
If it is proven that the accused was justified in defending himself or others, then they will be acquitted of the charged crime.
If the jury finds that the accused's actions were not those of a reasonable man, then the defense of self or others is not justified.
One thing to note about the defense of self or others is that once the defendant presents evidence that they were justified in using deadly force, the burden is on the state to disprove that defense beyond a reasonable doubt.
When is a Person Not Justified in Using Force?
There are three situations in which a person is not justified in using force:
- If he 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;
- If he is attempting to commit, committing, or fleeing after the commission or attempted commission of a felony; or
- Was the aggressor or was engaged in 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.
Georgia Case Law
The accused, Tarrance Jennings, was acquitted of his charges of aggravated assault and aggravated battery after he proved he was justified in using force to defend himself. State v. Jennings, 337 Ga. App. 164, (2016). The evidence showed that Jennings owed money to Finch. Finch and his cousin, Robinson, grabbed Jennings and pulled him inside their car as he was walking home. Robinson sat in the back seat with Jennings choking and punching him. Finch stopped the car outside of a friend's apartment while Robinson continued hitting Jennings. Finch then came and dragged Jennings out of the car and held him down while they searched his pockets for the money. Jennings was able to reach into his sweatshirt, pull out his gun, and shoot Robinson. Finch started running towards the apartment, and Jennings shot him in the back. Jennings threw the gun in the sewer and called the police and told them he wanted to turn himself in.
During the trial, Jennings presented sufficient evidence of the reasonableness of his belief in the necessity of using deadly force with respect to Robinson. Robinson had been hitting and choking him for a long period of time, and Jennings believed his life was in danger. The jury found that Jennings actions were reasonable and he was acquitted of the charges.
The legal system can be complicated and overwhelming. Trying to prove that your use of force was justified to defend yourself or others can be difficult. Having a Georgia 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. Lawson and Berry and their team of Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyers will assist you every step of the way and answer any questions you may wait. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation. Don't wait because your future is at stake.