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Residents need to know laws
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Editor's Note: This is the first of several articles by Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle designed to give readers a better understanding of applicable state laws and responsible firearms ownership.

The shooting death of Trayvon Martin continues to capture headlines and stir emotions. Certain areas of our country are embroiled in an emotional controversy arguing and debating whether or not the applied force was justified. It is often easy for our emotions to cloud our reasoning and bias our judgment.

I believe that one of the primary reasons for this disparity of opinions is a direct result of being unfamiliar with the laws that ultimately govern our responses to force. Regardless of our opinions, it is important that we take a step back and take a rational look at our laws regarding the use of deadly force.

It is incidents such as these that serve to increase awareness and ultimately bring many concerns and questions into light. Understanding this presents a prime opportunity to help further educate our community in matters pertaining to the laws that govern our personal application of force.

ln order to accomplish this goal, this article will be the first in a series dedicated to educating our community on applicable state laws and responsible firearms ownership.

When addressing the topic of deadly force, it is paramount that we read and understand Georgia Law.

The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) 16-3-21, (a) reads: "A person is justified in threatening or using force against another when and to the extent that he or she reasonably believes that such threat or force is necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person against such other's imminent use of unlawful force; however, except as provided in Code Section 16-3-23, 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."

The first portion of this paragraph deals specifically with less lethal force. Simply put, force that is not likely to cause serious bodily injury or death. Since we are addressing the deadly force aspect of this particular section, we will focus our attention on the latter half of this paragraph.

Further in the paragraph, a reference is made to Code Section 16-3-23. This section addresses the "Use of force in defense of habitation."

This particular subject will be covered in a later column.

Aside from this reference, the remaining verbiage addresses when deadly force is justified.

The section reads, "...only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary..."

lt is important to note that this language is somewhat misconstrued. As referenced in Moore v. State, 228 Ga.662 {6') lL87 SE2d277l (L972J, "This refers to the fears of a reasonable man, not just those of the defendant."

To further expound, the force must be considered "under the fears of a reasonable man, it is for the jury to decide whether or not the circumstances were sufficient to justify the existence of such fear" as referenced in Willingham v. State, 169 Ga. 742 (149 SE 887).

To further elaborate, we must be able to justify and articulate our responses in a manner that is considered reasonable to our fellow man. For example, in Bell Et Al. v. Smith Et A1.,227 Ga. App. 17, 488 S.E. 2d 91 (1997), the trial court found that the defendant's use of force was unreasonable.

ln this case, the defendant shot at a vehicle that was traveling away from the defendant. The bullet entered the vehicle striking and killing an occupant. The defendant argued that he acted in defense of his brother. The court found there was no imminent danger to the defendant or his brother.

ln reviewing this case, I believe that any reasonable person would conclude that the defendant was not in fear of great bodily injury, harm or death at that particular moment. Therefore the force applied was not justified.

Ultimately, the decision to use any type of force is a personal decision that must be based upon sound reasoning. Using deadly force and attempting to justify the actions in our own mind is simply not acceptable.

We must be able to articulate our responses and that articulation must be considered reasonable by a jury of our peers.

Currently serving his fourth term, Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle can be reached at (706) 344-3535 or by e-mail at