First, I want to be extraordinarily careful at the outset of this column.  The subject matter to be discussed is very informative and should be known by our citizens.  However, the use of force, particularly deadly force in any circumstance can subject a person to criminal prosecution.  Since this is a general column about the use of force by a citizen, it is highly recommended that the reader review and understand O.C.G.A. sections 16-3-21, 16-3-23, 16-3-21.1, and 16-3-24 which provide more detailed law on this subject.

With that being said, I have been asked on numerous occasions about the self defense laws in Georgia, particularly those dealing with home invasions.  Most of these questions center around what is known as the “castle doctrine.”

Generally, the “castle doctrine” provides that someone attacked in his home can use reasonable force, which can include deadly force, to protect his or another’s life without any duty to retreat from the attacker. It is defined differently in different states. The name appears to have its origin in the English common law rules protecting a person’s home and the phrase “one’s home is one’s castle.”

In recent years, a number of states have adopted or considered bills referred to as castle doctrine bills. These bills expand the circumstances where a person can use self-defense without retreating and contain other provisions, such as immunity for someone who legally uses force in self-defense.

States that currently have some type of castle doctrine law are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and South Dakota, and Georgia.  You will notice that these are mostly conservative states that were founded on a certain level of “frontier mentality.”

These castle doctrine laws contain a number of different provisions and the states vary in which provisions they adopted. Some of these expanded the circumstances where force could be used in self-defense without a duty to retreat, some adopted provisions on criminal or civil immunity for legally using force in self-defense, and some contained all of these provisions.

In 2006, Georgia’s castle doctrine law came into effect.  It generally provides that a person who uses threats or force relating to the use of force in defense of self or others, relating to the defense of habitation, has no duty to retreat and has a right to stand his or her ground and use force.

Additionally, a person who uses threats of force or force under the castle doctrine law can be immune from criminal prosecution under certain circumstances unless in the use of deadly force, such person utilizes a weapon the carrying of or possession of which is unlawful by such person.  (Such as if a convicted felon were to possess a firearm in using force).

Interestingly, the Georgia Supreme Court has held that once a defendant seeks immunity from prosecution, the trial court is required to resolve the issue before trial.  In other words, a jury may never get to decide if the defendant is criminally liable in a deadly shooting when immunity is asserted by the defendant.  This is a very rare and unique protection given to a criminal defendant in Georgia.

Again, because of space limits of my column, I cannot fully detail the very important information contained in the statutes that I mentioned in the first paragraph.  In order to fully understand Georgia’s castle doctrine, those code sections must be read in conjunction with what I have provided.  If you use force under circumstances not approved by law, you can be subject to arrest and prosecution.

I am very much in favor of castle doctrine laws because they give the citizen the right to self protection under appropriate circumstances.  I do believe that our homes are our castles.