WHEN DEADLY FORCE IS JUSTIFIED

Last week I discussed Georgia’s law related to self-defense and when using reasonable force is justified. This week I want to move to the second portion of O.C.G.A. § 16-3-21 and talk about when a person is justified in using deadly force.

The second portion of O.C.G.A. § 16-3-21 states that 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.” First, this statute again says that a person must “reasonably” believe that the use of deadly force is necessary. If a person comes up to me with a pink Super Soaker water gun and says “I’m going to shoot you”, then I do not have the legal right to pull out my handgun and fire a bullet into that person’s chest. It would not be “reasonable” to believe that my life was in danger. Second, notice that this portion of the statute allows the use of force that may result in death to prevent “great bodily injury.” In other words, a person may use deadly force even if the force being used against them may only result in severe injuries, as opposed to death. Third, the statute again allows a person to use deadly force in defense of another person. For example, if you are walking down the street and you see a person being attacked with a knife, then you are authorized to use deadly force to defend that third person. Finally, the statute authorizes the use of deadly force to prevent a “forcible felony.” This is very similar to the example I gave for the defense of a third person. Essentially, deadly force is authorized to stop felonies that involve force or intimidation, even if those felonies may not necessarily involve the risk of death.

The above discussion merely scratches the surface of this area of law. As you can see, a lot of gray area exists. As I said last week, these cases are very fact-specific. Most times, when a person is faced with the decision to use deadly force, he or she doesn’t have much time to weigh out the options. However, I hope this discussion of the applicable law helps citizens to know their rights.

Jeffrey E. Johnston is a local attorney licensed to practice in Georgia. His practice focuses primarily on Criminal Defense and Personal Injury law. His law firm can be reached at (706) 869-8171.