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Georgia’s ‘stand your ground’ law explained

Kevin Sproul

Kevin Sproul

It seems as though everyone has been following the case against George Zimmerman and the shooting death of young Trayvon Martin. Since that case hit the national airwaves last year, many people have voiced their personal opinions or interpretations of the “stand your ground” law, I have also crossed paths with several individuals who wanted to know the similarities or differences with Georgia’s “stand your ground” law in comparison to Florida’s law. Georgia is a “stand your ground” state also; and I feel that it is important that everyone has a clear understanding of exactly what rights that allows (and what it does not allow).

Florida led the way by passing the first modern “stand your ground” law in 2005. Georgia followed in 2006. Currently, about 23 states have similar laws and several others are considering them. In the wake of the Zimmerman case, however, many people wonder if such laws actually make them less safe.

Georgia’s law is similar to that of Florida. Georgia code 16-3-23.1 states that a person using force in self defense has “no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground.” The key is that the person’s use of force must be in self defense.

I believe, however, that the language in Georgia’s law provides ample protection for everyone. Our law clearly addresses one of the main issues put forth by the prosecution in the Zimmerman case: Can an armed civilian initiate a conflict with the intent of causing harm, then use the law to escape prosecution? The answer is, no. Georgia Code 16-3-21 clearly states that “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.”

What the Georgia law allows is for a civilian who, though no fault of his own, finds himself faced with another person’s unlawful use of force, to resist rather than to run away. This does not mean that resistance is always the smartest thing to do; it just means that it is allowed. Furthermore, such resistance must also be in compliance with the law. For example, if a female in a dark parking lot is accosted by a male with a knife who attempts to steal her purse, she may use deadly force to stop the attack. However, if he has already stolen her purse and is now running away, she may not use deadly force to prevent him from getting away because while fleeing he is no longer an imminent threat to her.

Deadly force, or force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm, may only be used if the person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to themselves or a third person, or to prevent a forcible felony, such as rape, armed robbery, or kidnapping.

A person may use force to defend their property, but not deadly force. Unless such property is their home. Under certain circumstances, a person may use deadly force to protect their home under another law commonly referred to as the “Castle Doctrine.” I will expound more on that in my next article.

Use of force decisions are seldom cut and dried. The courts will review such decisions based on a standard of “reasonableness” considering the unique circumstances at the time. Each case is different. The citizen’s best bet is to become familiar with the law, which may be found at the Georgia General Assembly website, www.legis.ga.gov (then click the link for “Georgia Code”). If you have any questions about these or any other Georgia laws, please feel free to contact my office at (229) 430-6508.

Sheriff Kevin Sproul is a longtime resident of Dougherty County. He is a graduate of Albany High School, Darton College and LaGrange College of Albany. Sproul has been employed with the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office since 1982 and can be reached at (229) 430-6508.