We live in a world where the legal system may treat you and your actions differently depending on where you possess a weapon, or where you use it to protect your family or yourself.
For instance, in Georgia, the possession of a handgun without a Weapons Carry License (“WCL”) may be a crime depending on where you possess that handgun. In a movie theater or grocery store without a WCL? Without any special exceptions, yes. In your home? Generally, no.
The difference is that in the first two locations, you’re in a public place, and carry there requires a license and certain pre-existing conditions if you use that firearm in defense. In the third location, you are in your habitation (your “castle”) and Georgia law treats your possession and use of a firearm in your habitation (and you, when you’re in it) quite differently from a public location.
Let’s look at what makes your habitation a special place, and what Georgia law allows you to do to defend your castle.
What the Law Says
The term “Castle Doctrine” does not appear in Georgia law; the concept is an ancient one that every person is the king or queen of his or her “castle” (the home). No king or queen is required to retreat before using force or deadly force against an intruder in their castle. In Georgia, the Castle Doctrine is found in Ga. Code Ann. § 16-3-23: Use of force in defense of habitation.
What is a Habitation?
Georgia law in defining Castle Doctrine rights does not use the term “home” or “house;” the term employed is “habitation.” A habitation is defined by Ga. Code Ann. § 16-3-24.1 as “any dwelling, motor vehicle, or place of business…”
If you are the victim of unlawful force or deadly force when you are in your dwelling, motor vehicle, or place of business, these places are your castle, and the law will protect you in the use of deadly force. In these Castle Doctrine circumstances, the law will justify the use of force or even deadly force based upon a person’s reasonable belief that force or deadly force was necessary to defend against force inside his or her habitation.
Stand Your Ground Rules
Georgia’s Stand Your Ground statute is found in Ga. Code Ann. § 16-3-23.1. The Stand Your Ground statute grants a person who uses threats or force in defense of self or others, in defense of a habitation, or in defense of property other than a habitation (the land your habitation sits on, or a rental type property), the right to stand his or her ground and to use force as allowed by law, including deadly force. There is no duty or requirement to retreat.
These rules apply to your home, your car, and your place of business (meaning a business you own; if you work for someone, the business owner can restrict carry in the business). What if you’re not in your home? What if you’re on vacation? Does a rental property become your habitation? What about a hotel room? The answer is yes, in Georgia.
In 2004, the Georgia Supreme Court weighed in on this very issue in a case called Hammock v. State, and found that for purposes of the Defense of Habitation Law, “a person’s habitation can be a particular space in a jointly-occupied dwelling [such as a hotel] provided that such person has obtained the right to occupy that space and exclude his co-inhabitants [other guests] therefrom.” So, your castle can travel with you; just make sure that if you leave the state, you follow the laws of the state your castle has traveled to.
For any questions regarding what constitutes a “castle” in Georgia, contact U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney today.