Editor's Note: This is the second of several articles by Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle designed to give readers a better understanding of applicable state laws and responsible firearms ownership.
In continuation of our look into the use of deadly force, today's article will further focus on the elements required to justify our actions, which could result in great bodily harm or death.
As responsible citizens, I believe that each of us has a duty and an obligation to protect our families, our communities and our selves.
As cliché as it may sound, the well known adage of "with great power comes great responsibility" rings so very true.
Having the ability to take another person's life should not be taken lightly, nor should it be committed in a haphazardly fashion. Proper education, training and application are the key. It is these guiding principles that should serve to increase our awareness and our desire to make the right decisions.
In further review of O.C.G.A. 16-3-21, the section reads that a person is justified in using force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury "to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."
So what exactly is a forcible felony? First it is important to define what a felony is.
A "felony" means a crime punishable by death, by imprisonment for life, or by imprisonment for more than 12 months.
A "forcible felony" is defined as "any felony that involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any person. Examples of a "forcible felony" include; murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, kidnapping and rape.
In order to respond in a deadly force capacity, it is absolutely crucial to fully understand what constitutes a forcible felony.
Remember that both elements must be present. First, it must be a felony offense. Secondly, it must involve the threat or use of force against a person.
Knowing that deadly force is justified to prevent a forcible felony, ponder on this: Imagine you were traveling home this evening and you stop at your local convenience store. As you enter the parking lot, you observe a subject wearing a ski mask brandishing a weapon emerge from the shadows and walk rapidly towards the entrance. Any reasonable person could conclude that the subject was about to commit an armed robbery. Knowing that armed robbery is a forcible felony, deadly force would be justified to prevent the commission of that offense.
I was recently asked: "What if someone is forcibly breaking into my tool shed? Can I use deadly force?"
Let's analyze this together to see if the criterion is sufficient to support the use of deadly force. The first question we must answer is whether or not this crime constitutes a "felony."
This crime would be considered a "burglary" and therefore would be punishable as a "felony" offense. However, this crime would not justify the use of deadly force because it does not meet the established criteria of involving the use or threat of physical force against a person.
So the answer is: "No." Deadly force cannot be justified to prevent a burglary during a circumstance such as this.
Georgia law does address special circumstances when dealing with defense of habitation. This topic will be discussed in a later article.
Regardless of what Georgia law authorizes, I will reiterate that the decision to use force is a personal choice which must not be taken lightly. I am an advocate of being proactive and safeguarding ourselves, our families and our property. However we must act responsibly and appropriately. Just because we have the authority to use deadly force to prevent the commission of a forcible felony - it doesn't dictate that response.
No one wants to be a victim regardless of the crime, however safeguarding ourselves and our assets includes preparing for the potential aftermath. Often times, it is better to be a good witness and leave the enforcement to those who serve.
Currently serving his fourth term, Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle can be reached at (706) 344-3535 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.