Use of Force in Georgia, United States (2021)

I love when trainings give me homework! Here, in an effort to do my own diligence, I looked at my State (Georgia) laws regarding use of force – i.e. self defense.

Use of Force in Georgia, United States (2021)
Photo by Bermix Studio / Unsplash

I love when trainings give me homework!  Here, in an effort to do my own diligence, I looked at my State (Georgia) laws regarding use of force – i.e. self defense.  If I can get around to it, I'll review national (United States) laws as well.

Disclaimer:  Nothing herein is legal advise.  I am not a lawyer or judge.  The statements below are for informational links only.  Any interpretation is my personal opinion.  If anyone IS a lawyer and reading this, PLEASE shoot me a message if I muffed anything up.


The first thing we should know is how / when we (as civilians) are justified in using (any) force that would / could be criminally punishable.  Take note, there may be a civil lawsuit that follows as well – e.g. personal damages, wrongful death, etc.

Source:  GA Code § 16-3-20 (2020)

This looks like more of an index for later codes, but the take away here (for me) is that a defense needs to be "reasonable", as decided by a (potential) jury of peers.  There are some topics of note that may be worth looking at close, like: (stopping) planned adultery, revenge killing(s), and simple battery.

Also, note that all bets are off if you're not legally allowed to be in possession of your firearm.

Defending Yourself and Others:

Source:  GA Code § 16-3-21 (2020)

"...a person is justified in using force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or herself or a third person or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."

Note the added emphasis.  We can use force that is justified (as reasonable) to prevent death or great (not minor or moderate) bodily harm.  Also, what may be perceived as a life threatening attack on your grandmother with a pacemaker (like getting punched in the chest), may not be defensible if the same attack is against you!

You also lose this justification if you:

  • "provoke" said use of force against yourself,
  • are the person committing the aforementioned felony, or
  • are engaged in "combat by agreement"; unless you "...effectively communicate(s) to such other person his (your) intent to do so (withdraw from the combat) and the other, notwithstanding, continues or threatens to continue the use of unlawful force."  Of note here too, if someone is an aggressor and "withdraws" and makes that known, you may not be defensible – that might be seen as revenge killing (by a DA who doesn't want re-elected).

Defending Your Habitat:

What is your habitat:

"As used in Code Sections 16-3-23 and 16-3-24, the term "habitation" means any dwelling, motor vehicle, or place of business, and "personal property" means personal property other than a motor vehicle."

Source:  GA Code § 16-3-24.1 (2020)

So, we can defend said habitat "... to prevent or terminate such other's unlawful entry into or attack upon a habitation" if:

  • "The entry is made or attempted in a violent and tumultuous manner and he or she reasonably believes that the entry is attempted or made for the purpose of assaulting or offering personal violence..."  So, you can't just smoke the guy from nursing home across the street that unwittingly stumbles in through your (unlocked?) front door.  The would be attacker has to be just that; reasonably threatening or attempting to attack.  This goes back really to defending yourself and others; just within your home.
  • "That force is used against another person who is not a member of the family or household and who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence and the person using such force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred."  I had to read that about five times.  You can't shoot someone who has a right to be there (like a family member or roommate); unless perhaps they meet the first above home criteria and / or defense of self / other criteria.
  • To stop a felony from occurring as a result of said forced entry.  Note that the entry has to be forced.

Some notes here include that you cannot use information that a person forcing entry committed (prior) violence against another person to defend your use of force – the threat must be immanent to you or someone else present.

Also, should you invite someone into your home and they be come violent.  You would be justified in stopping them.  Note again though, you your violence must stop when the threat does and you're not allowed to retaliate in violent force.

Source:  GA Code § 16-3-23 (2020)

Non-Habitat Property:

Here we see more consistent language:

  • You or an immediate family member need to be in legal possession of said property.
  • Non-habitat property (regarding trespassing) is not defensible, unless the trespasser is committing a felony.
  • Or, if you have a legal duty to protect the property.

Source:  GA Code § 16-3-24 (2020)

Duty to Retreat:

In some states, I'll let you guess which ones, you are legally required to attempt to retreat from lethal force before you match lethal force.  Georgia is not one of them.  So long as the above conditions are met, we are permitted to stand our ground.

You should also note that you may lose some of these rights if you're not legally allowed to be where you're at (a business with "no weapons" signs), or in possession of the force you're using (like a firearm), or doing what you're doing (a felony?).

Source:  GA Code § 16-3-23.1 (2020)

Update 12/25/21:

It's Christmas Day!  Dean and I are out walking, a stranger is in their yard and there's a dog jumping wildly around.  The person calls out to me, asking if I know who's dog it is and says it's not hers.  The dog, whilst only having three legs, is about Dean's size and makes an aggressive posture and lunges but stops.

Immediately Dean is on high alert and I reach for my right hip (pistol).  Fortunately, I was able to navigate the situation with out any harm coming to myself, the other person, the other dog, or my dog, but it made me wonder about the potential of the situation, had I needed to use my weapon.

"In addition to justification and excuse as provided in Article 2 of Chapter 3 of this title, a person shall be justified in injuring or killing an animal when and to the extent that he or she reasonably believes that such act is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of injury or damage to any person, other animal, or property."

Source:  GA Code § 16-12-4 (2020)

NOTE:  Again, this is not legal advice.  Also, National laws may supersede State laws.  Additionally, local (county and city) laws may be more specific than those mentioned here.

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