On August 28, 2017, the Georgia Supreme Court addressed the issue of “zero tolerance” for fighting in schools in the Peach Tree State in the case Henry County Board of Education v. S.G., No. S16G1700. The issue is the justification of self-defense in a school disciplinary action.
Back in 2014, a young high school student, (S.G.), was expelled for fighting in what witnesses and a video of the incident indicated her actions were in self-defense. But the school, like so many schools, has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to fighting. Zero tolerance means “no excuse” and automatic expulsion for violating such a policy.
IS ZERO-TOLERANCE UNLAWFUL?
The GA Supreme Court reasoned that “blind enforcement of zero tolerance fighting policies” are unlawful since they do not consider self-defense as a justification for the conduct. The Supreme Court noted that it is not illegal to fight under Georgia state law as long as it is done in self-defense. That same law applies even in schools, the Court stated.
Specifically, Georgia Code § 16-3-21 provides you are justified in using force against another person when you reasonably believe force is necessary to defend yourself against that person’s use of unlawful force against you.
The statute goes on to state that any rule or policy of any state or county agency (including school districts) that conflicts with the law is unenforceable and void. The decision of the Court put all Georgia schools on notice with regards to enforcement of their own zero-tolerance policies.
SELF-DEFENSE: Burden of Proof
The claim of self-defense is an affirmative defense to a civil claim or criminal charge. That means that the defendant must raise the issue by presenting a new fact that defeats the charge or claim even if the facts supporting the charge or claim are true.
In a criminal setting, the burden of proof falls upon the prosecutor to overcome or refute the defendant’s claim that his action was done in self-defense. However, in a civil matter, the burden of proof falls upon the person asserting self-defense to establish facts in support of the claim.
In this particular case, the Supreme Court ruled that school disciplinary matters are civil in nature and not criminal. Therefore, the burden falls upon the student to present evidence that their conduct was done in self-defense and school districts must now permit such a defense be asserted by the student.
The case has been remanded back to the Henry County School Board of Education for reconsideration, allowing S.G. to present evidence in support of her claim of justified use of force in self-defense. Even though S.G. has already graduated, she is seeking to have her academic disciplinary record expunged.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Understanding your rights and when you are justified in using force or even deadly force is complex. It is critical that you have an understanding of the laws of self-defense.
You can learn more about the laws of self-defense by attending a workshop or seminar and hear from experienced U.S. & Texas LawShield® Independent Program Attorneys as they explain the law and answer your questions.
You can find an event and register at GunLawSeminar.com.
Get Behind the Shield.