3 Critical Stand Your Ground Rules in Georgia

Is there a statute that specifically addresses whether you can stand your ground? If so, how is it related to the Castle Doctrine? Are there any myths involved in the invocation of stand your ground and is this something that’s shared by all jurisdictions?

What is “Stand Your Ground?”

Official Code of Georgia 16-3-23.1 is known as the “use of force in defense of habitation, property, self, or others—no duty to retreat.” This is what it says. A person who uses threats or force in accordance with code section 16-3-21, which is the use of force in defense of self or others, 16-3-23, which is the use of force in defense of habitation, or 16-3-24, which is 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 those code sections, including deadly force.

What that means is if you are justified in using threats of force, force, or deadly force to protect yourself or others, to protect your habitation, your home, your car, your place of business, or to protect your property other than your habitation, the law in Georgia says you have no duty to retreat and you can stand your ground and exercise that level of force, including deadly force, so long as you are justified in the use of that force. Whether you’re justified in the use of that force or not depends on the statute that you rely upon in using it. For instance, if you use deadly force against another person to protect yourself, you can only stand your ground if you’re justified in using that level of force.

In other words, you’re excluded from using deadly force as a justification if you initially provoke an attack in order to use force, if you’re attempting to commit a crime, or if you were the primary aggressor. In other words, if you can’t use the justification of defense by deadly force, then you cannot avail yourself with the stand your ground law. If you are justified in the use of force, threats of force, or deadly force, either to protect yourself or another person, your home, your car, your place of business, or your property, then the law in Georgia allows you to stand your ground and use that level of force.

How is the stand your ground law connected to the Castle Doctrine? 

Now, it’s not actually a statute in Georgia. It’s what is known as a legal philosophy. It’s a method of thinking that’s very old and it’s been a part our law for quite a long time. Now, when we talk about the Castle Doctrine in Georgia, it’s connected with a statute. It’s connected with the defense of habitation statute. Official Code of Georgia 16-3-23: that’s Georgia’s Castle Doctrine.

The legal concept comes from the philosophy that every person is the king or queen of his or her castle (your castle being your home). As the king or queen, you have no duty to retreat when an invader invades, and if there is an intruder in your home, you have the right to defend your habitation (that’s a dwelling, a motor vehicle, or a place of business).

In conjunction with the stand your ground law, that means if someone invades your home, invades your habitation or your castle, you have a right to stand your ground and protect your home, your car, your place of business, or whatever is considered your castle. The Castle Doctrine is very heavily-woven into defense of habitation. If you’re justified in defending your habitation (your castle), then the law allows you to stand your ground. You do not have to seek an arena of retreat. You do not have to seek an avenue of retreat.

A common misconception

Some know it as the 21 foot rule. Back in the ’80s, there were some studies and positions that indicated if your attacker was within 21 feet of you, he or she could get to you before you got to your firearm. It means that if your attacker was inside 21 feet of you, it was okay to use deadly force. Outside 21 feet, it was not okay. There’s no bright line rule about these types of use of force in Georgia. In fact, there’s very little anywhere about whether there’s a specific distance. Every case is different and depends on that specific set of facts. There is no 21 foot rule. Someone who’s 40 feet away from you could potentially do as much damage as someone who is five feet away from you.

If you are in your home and you are defending your home from an intruder, 21 feet or no, if you’re justified in the use of deadly force, you can stand your ground. Georgia citizens are lucky to have this type of protection, because a lot of states do not have stand your ground laws. As a matter of fact, in some states, you must seek an avenue of escape before you use force to defend yourself. At least in that instance, we are very lucky that the statutes in Georgia allow us to do so.

The 21 foot rule does not exist. If you’re in a position in your home where you must protect yourself or your family, do so and stand your ground.

Comment section

1 comments on “3 Critical Stand Your Ground Rules in Georgia

  1. As correctly explained in the blog post, the 21-foot “rule” was never a rule, nor was it a statement of legal principle. It was a tactical training tool developed by John Tueller, a lieutenant and firearms instructor with the Salt Lake City, Utah, police department. It was used to illustrate the “reactionary gap” between the time a police officer recognized the existence of a deadly threat (when an assailant armed with a knife began moving towards the officer to attack him) and the time it took the officer to draw their weapon from the holster and engage the target. In effect, the Tueller Drill helped officers understand the difference or “gap” between the action (of the criminal suspect) and the reaction (of the police officer). It was never meant as an absolute rule from a tactical standpoint and it was never meant to illustrate or state a legal use of force principle.

    The Tueller Drill morphed from a tactical training tool to a rule because officers and legally armed citizens were looking for a fast, easy to apply guide on when they could use deadly force against someone armed with an edged weapon. The problem is that the use of deadly force cannot be reduced to a rote formula, such as “21 feet + knife = I can shoot.” The law requires that a cognitive thought process, however brief as required by the circumstances, take place before deadly force can be employed. After an incident the person who used deadly force must be able to articulate the circumstances that were present that allowed them to reasonably calculate that they could used deadly force in response to an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury. That reasonable belief cannot be dependent on a rote formula such as the misstated, misunderstood, and misapplied “Tueller rule.”

    Great post Jennifer Anderson. Thank you.

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