The time for holiday shopping and family get-together preparations is about to reach its summit. People are rushing to and from their vehicles with hardly a second glance at their surroundings. One distracted moment is all a criminal needs to get into your vehicle to steal your belongings, or worse, make you the victim of an assault or robbery. Situational awareness is key: be mindful of your surroundings, gravitate toward lit areas in parking lots, scan the area for any possible threat, and have a plan in mind for retreat or cover. But what happens when a law-abiding gun owner finds themselves in the sights of a criminal?
During the holiday season, many holiday shoppers are caught unaware by theft, robbery, or burglary of their vehicles. It is critical that you, as a law-abiding gun owner, understand what legal response is allowable and justified for each of these criminal actions before you find yourself in the middle of one of these terrifying incidents.
Understanding Justified Use of Force
Especially if you carry a handgun, knowing the law on the justified use of force and deadly force to prevent a crime will help you develop a plan before an incident takes place. Theft, robbery, and break-ins are all too common around the holidays. We don’t want you to become a victim, so let’s address each of these.
Let’s imagine that you’re walking out of a store after shopping for presents. It’s late, but the parking lot is still pretty full of last-minute holiday shoppers. You push your cart across the lot while practicing situational awareness. The cart is just loaded with bags of presents you’ve bought for your family and friends. Upon reaching your car, you let go of the cart and begin searching for your keys. Just then, a person appears out of nowhere, grabs a few of the bags from the cart, and starts running away. This is known as “theft.”
Theft is taking or appropriating the property of another with the intention of depriving the owner of the property. Generally, theft alone with no other aggravating factors does not justify the use of deadly force. Ga. Code Ann. § 16-8-2.
Let’s change our earlier scenario. This time, the parking lot is pretty empty, save for a cluster of cars where you’re parked. As you reach your car and begin searching for your keys, a masked man appears from behind the car. He tells you quietly that you can either let him walk away with the shopping cart, or he’ll kill you. This is defined as “robbery.”
Robbery occurs when a person commits the offense with intent to commit theft and takes the property of another from the person or the immediate presence of another. Ga. Code Ann. § 16-8-40. Robbery is a forcible felony, which means Georgia law allows you to use deadly force to protect yourself or any other person from the robbery (this is robbery of any kind defined in the statute, including armed robbery) if you have a reasonable belief you must act to prevent the commission of the robbery. Because Georgia is a “Stand Your Ground” state, you are not required to seek escape before protecting yourself or others, but rather you can stand your ground to lawfully use force or deadly force.
Theft of items from a vehicle is another crime that is common in parking lots around the holidays. “Entering Auto” is a felony in Georgia similar to burglary and occurs when a perpetrator enters “any automobile or other motor vehicle with the intent to commit a theft or a felony.” Ga. Code Ann. § 16-8-18.
Entering auto is not a forcible felony because it does not include physical force or violence against a person; as a result, the facts may not automatically allow you to use deadly force. Considering your vehicle is also your legal habitation, the law in Georgia provides the expanded ability to use deadly force to protect individuals within the habitation, and to prevent the commission of a felony inside. Whether you might be charged for a crime against someone breaking into an unoccupied car will be a decision for the District Attorney in your county (whether the law provides you the ability to protect your habitation or not).
It All Depends on the Facts!
The best course of action will always be to use that level of force necessary to protect an individual, while keeping in mind many prosecutors would consider it an unreasonable level of force to use a deadly weapon against someone breaking into an unoccupied vehicle.
Armed with situational awareness and an understanding of the self-defense laws in Georgia, you can protect yourself from the criminal element and keep yourself on the right side of the law this holiday season.
For any further questions regarding self-defense over the holiday season, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.
The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries, and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.