Can I claim self-defense?

In Georgia, pursuant to O.C.G.A § 16-3-21, a person is justified in using force to defend themselves or others when a person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to defend themselves or a third person against another person’s imminent use of unlawful force. This means that a person in Georgia may be justified in an action that would otherwise be a crime if they can make out a case to the court that they were defending themselves or another person.

If you believe that you were justified in using force and find yourself charged with a serious felony like aggravated assault, manslaughter, or murder, your attorney will petition the court for an immunity hearing, asking the court to find you immune from prosecution. At this hearing the defendant carried the burden to show the court, by a preponderance of the evidence, that they were justified in their actions because they reasonably believed that they were at risk of receiving a serious or life threatening injury if they did not act.

In order to make this showing to the court the defendant mut show several things:

  • The defendant was not the initial aggressor. If you were the initial aggressor in an argument, meaning that you started a fight or an altercation, you are not permitted to claim self-defense.
  • The defendant was not engaged in mutual combat with the victim. If you and the victim agreed (by words or actions) to engage in a fight, you are not permitted to claim self-defense. However, if you remove yourself from the fight, and communicate this to the other person, and then the other person comes after you, you may now be entitled to claim self-defense.
  • The force used by the defendant was not unreasonable. The amount of force used to defend yourself must be reasonable based upon the amount of force used against you. For example, if someone says “I’m going to slap you” it is not reasonable to shoot them.

If you can show the judge that you were in fact justified in defending yourself, the case will be dropped and you will be immune from prosecution. It is very important that you have a lawyer representing you who can help you make out your case to the court. At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, we have handled immunity motions like this is Fulton, Cobb, Dekalb, Gwinnett, Clayton, Newton, Forsyth, and many other counties. Call us today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

Self Defense in Georgia: Are You Immune from Criminal Prosecution?

The police put you handcuffs for shooting another person. You are on your way to the county jail. You know you acted in self-defense and want a jury trial. But before your jury trial, you are entitled to a hearing to see if you are immune from criminal prosecution. 

O.C.G.A. 16-3-24.2 authorizes a pre-trial hearing to decide if a defendant is immune from criminal prosecution. You must first file an immunity motion requesting a hearing. To avoid trial, a defendant has the burden of proof that he is entitled to immunity. The standard of proof is by a preponderance of evidence.

If the trial judge finds that you have met the burden of proof regarding self-defense, then your indictment is dismissed, and the State cannot continue to prosecute you.

If the defendant cannot meet its burden regarding self-defense at an immunity hearing, he can still argue self-defense at trial. You get two shots at winning your case. First, argue self-defense at an immunity hearing. If you lose, argue self-defense to a jury at trial.

At the immunity hearing, the defendant would call witnesses, present evidence and persuade the judge that he was acting in self-defense. The judge must employ O.C.G.A. 16-3-21(a) to make the finding. This section requires the judge to make a finding of justification based on evidence of the defendant’s reasonable belief that the use of deadly force against the other person was necessary to prevent the defendant from dying or being seriously injured.

If the judge makes such a finding, then the case is over.

If you believe you are being charged with a crime but that you had to act in self-defense to avoid death or serious injury, then call our office and lets discuss whether an immunity motion is proper in your case.

We can meet you at any time at either our Atlanta or Marietta office. Please call us at 404-581-0999 or email me at