by Sheriff Kevin Sproul
The Castle Doctrine
In my last article, I spoke about Georgia’s “Stand Your Ground” law which allows the victim of an unlawful use of force to fight back rather than retreat. In that article, I stated that deadly force may not be used to protect property. The Castle Doctrine is an exception to that.
Taken from English Common Law, the Castle Doctrine has been around since the dawning of this nation and provides that a person’s home is their “castle” and that the homeowner has the right to defend that castle from any intruder. Many states have retained this right for homeowners, including the use of deadly force if necessary. It is important to note that this provision only applies to the dwelling itself, not to the yard or any outbuildings.
Georgia code 16-3-23 allows the use of force to prevent or stop a burglary. Deadly force may even be used against anyone who unlawfully and forcibly enters a home with the intent to commit a felony or violence and the resident reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent the crime. This does not include a person who is a family member or other resident of the home. You cannot lock someone out of their home then shoot them for breaking in!
One thing of critical importance is that if you use deadly force to protect your home, especially if you use a firearm, make sure to clearly identify your target. Many tragedies have occurred because a homeowner shot at a “shadowy figure” in the dark, only to discover that it was a family member. Turning on the lights may help you to clearly identify if the person is friend or foe, and may also momentarily disorient them.
Also, please remember that bullets go through walls. If you have children, do not fire any weapon in the direction of their bedrooms. Depending on the type of weapon you use, the bullets could penetrate their bedroom walls and strike them. If you live in an apartment, remember that your bullets could end up in your neighbor’s apartment.
If you fear any type of home invasion, you should designate a room in your house as your “safe room.” It may be your bedroom or a bathroom. Everyone in the home should know to go there if they can. It should be a room that you can defend easily. You should ensure that you have a functioning cell phone. In the case of a home invasion, you should lock yourself and your family in the safe room, call the police, and defend yourself until the police arrive.
You should have a brightly colored object that you can place in the window to let police know what room you are in. Make sure to advise the 911 operator that if you are armed, so that the responding officer can be informed. You certainly don’t want to accidentally shoot a responding officer thinking that he is the burglar!
Georgia has some of the best laws to protect its citizens and allow them to protect themselves. If you have any questions about these or any other Georgia laws, please feel free to contact my office at 229-430-6508.