A Columbus homeowner who fired an estimated 12 shots earlier this week at four men burglarizing his home appeared to be acting well within Georgia law, according to legal experts contacted by the Ledger-Enquirer.
On Monday, a McNeese Drive man came home about 12:45 p.m. and found two strange vehicles in his driveway. He then witnessed four men leaving his residence through the front door, according to the Columbus Police report.
He pulled into the driveway and loaded his .40 caliber pistol. As the homeowner shot, the suspects scattered, two running away and two more leaving in a vehicle. He hit at least one, who was later found bleeding in Britt David Park. Brandon Rozier, 17, was arrested and faces multiple charges, for burglary and gun possession.
“Without going into the specifics of this case, if someone forces their way into your house it is reasonable to be fearful and defend your self with a gun,” said Chief Assistant Public Defender Steve Craft, who also pointed out that every case is unique and there are no absolutes.
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Georgia is a Castle Doctrine state, which allows the use of deadly force under certain circumstances.
The state code reads:
“A person is justified in threatening or using force against another person when, and to the extent that, he/she reasonably believes that such threat or force is necessary to defend himself/herself or a third person against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. A person is justified in using force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if that person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself/herself or a third person or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
When asked by police why he started shooting, the homeowner said “he was afraid for his life,” according to the report. Police have said they do not expect to file any charges against the man, who reported that $1,000 in cash, a 42-inch television and a shotgun were stolen.
Columbus defense attorney Richard Hagler, who has spent nearly 40 years practicing criminal law, said the facts, as he understands them, clearly support the homeowner’s actions.
“From what I know about it, he acted reasonably and under Georgia law,” Hagler said. “... If someone breaks into your house and is carrying your stuff out, it is reasonable to assume they are armed.”
The state law was broadened a few years ago, Hagler said.
“It used to be that you had to be inside your house. Now you don’t have to be in your home,” he said. “You are allowed to protect your home, your property and yourself. ... The old joke used to be if you shot somebody, drag them inside the house. As long as you are in the curtilage – the house and the yard – you have the right to protect yourself now.”
Senior Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly, who directs the office’s violent crime unit, said that Georgia law allows a homeowner to use deadly force to stop entry or the commission of a felony, under which burglary is classified.
“He doesn’t even have to believe his life is at risk,” Kelly said.
Georgia law places the burden on the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person was not justified in using force.
The homeowner told police he saw a gun as the men were leaving the house. Police recovered two handguns in Britt David Park, near where Rozier was arrested.
According to the state code, a person is not justified in using force if that person:
▪ Initially provokes the use of force against himself/herself with the intent to use such force as an excuse to inflict bodily harm upon the assailant.
▪ Is attempting to commit, is committing, or is fleeing after the commission or attempted commission of a felony (define arguable felony).
▪ Was the aggressor or was engaged in a combat by agreement, unless the person withdraws from the encounter and effectively communicates his/her intent to withdraw to the other person, and the other person still continues or threatens to continue the use of unlawful force.
Georgia law also requires that the person using the force is lawfully in possession of the firearm. The homeowner in this case had a permit to carry a weapon, according to the police report.