2021 Georgia Code
Title 16 - Crimes and Offenses
Chapter 3 - Defenses to Criminal Prosecutions
Article 2 - Justification and Excuse
§ 16-3-21. Use of Force in Defense of Self or Others; Evidence of Belief That Force Was Necessary in Murder or Manslaughter Prosecution

Universal Citation: GA Code § 16-3-21 (2021)
  1. 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.
  2. A person is not justified in using force under the circumstances specified in subsection (a) of this Code section if he:
    1. Initially provokes the use of force against himself with the intent to use such force as an excuse to inflict bodily harm upon the assailant;
    2. Is attempting to commit, committing, or fleeing after the commission or attempted commission of a felony; or
    3. Was the aggressor or was engaged in a combat by agreement unless he withdraws from the encounter and effectively communicates to such other person his intent to do so and the other, notwithstanding, continues or threatens to continue the use of unlawful force.
  3. Any rule, regulation, or policy of any agency of the state or any ordinance, resolution, rule, regulation, or policy of any county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state which is in conflict with this Code section shall be null, void, and of no force and effect.
  4. In a prosecution for murder or manslaughter, if a defendant raises as a defense a justification provided by subsection (a) of this Code section, the defendant, in order to establish the defendant's reasonable belief that the use of force or deadly force was immediately necessary, may be permitted to offer:
    1. Relevant evidence that the defendant had been the victim of acts of family violence or child abuse committed by the deceased, as such acts are described in Code Sections 19-13-1 and 19-15-1, respectively; and
    2. Relevant expert testimony regarding the condition of the mind of the defendant at the time of the offense, including those relevant facts and circumstances relating to the family violence or child abuse that are the bases of the expert's opinion.

(Laws 1833, Cobb's 1851 Digest, p. 785; Code 1863, § 4230; Code 1868, § 4267; Code 1873, § 4333; Code 1882, § 4333; Penal Code 1895, § 73; Penal Code 1910, § 73; Code 1933, § 26-1014; Code 1933, § 26-902, enacted by Ga. L. 1968, p. 1249, § 1; Ga. L. 1975, p. 1209, § 1; Ga. L. 1993, p. 1716, § 2; Ga. L. 2001, p. 1247, § 1.)

Law reviews.

- For survey article on evidence, see 34 Mercer L. Rev. 163 (1982). For survey article on criminal law, see 60 Mercer L. Rev. 85 (2008). For note on admissibility of expert psychological testimony in Georgia, see 4 Ga. St. U. L. Rev. 117 (1988). For note on 1993 amendment of this Code section, see 10 Ga. St. U. L. Rev. 131 (1993). For note, "Smith v. State: The Georgia Supreme Court Mandated Jury Instructions in Battered Person Syndrome Cases," see 49 Mercer L. Rev. 1141 (1998). For note, "Open Season on Batterers in Georgia? Georgia Supreme Court Allows Jury Instructions on Battered Person Syndrome in Self-Defense Cases: Smith v. State (1997)," see 15 Ga. St. U. L. Rev. 821 (1999). For note on the 2001 amendment of this Code section, see 18 Ga. St. U. L. Rev. 25 (2001). For comment discussing the unconstitutional use of deadly force against nonviolent fleeing felons, see 18 Ga. L. Rev. 137 (1983).



  • General Consideration
  • Fear of Reasonable Man
  • Mutual Combat
  • Jury Charge
  • Application


Am. Jur. 2d.

- 6 Am. Jur. 2d, Assault and Battery, §§ 47, 69 et seq. 40A Am. Jur. 2d, Homicide, §§ 134 et seq., 170 et seq.

Self Defense, 33 POF2d 211.

Self-Defense in Homicide Cases, 42 Am. Jur. Trials 151.


- 40 C.J.S., Homicide, §§ 155, 182 et seq., 194 et seq.


- Duty to retreat to wall as affected by illegal character of premises on which homicide occurs, 2 A.L.R. 518.

Acquittal on charge as to one as bar to charge as to the other, where one person is killed or assaulted by acts directed at another, 2 A.L.R. 606.

Civil liability growing out of mutual combat, 6 A.L.R. 388; 30 A.L.R. 199; 47 A.L.R. 1092.

Right of self-defense as affected by defendant's violation of law only casually related to the encounter, 10 A.L.R. 861.

Homicide: duty to retreat when not on one's own premises, 18 A.L.R. 1279.

Wanton or willful misconduct by person killed or injured as defense to an action based on wanton or willful misconduct of defendant, 41 A.L.R. 1379.

Evidence of improper conduct by deceased toward defendant's wife as admissible in support of plea of self-defense, 44 A.L.R. 860.

Right of self-defense by officer attempting illegal arrest, 46 A.L.R. 904.

Self-defense by one who has rightfully entered on premises of his assailant, 53 A.L.R. 486.

Danger or apparent danger of death or great bodily harm as condition of self-defense in prosecution for assault as distinguished from prosecution for homicide, 114 A.L.R. 634.

Admissibility on issue of self-defense (or defense of another), on prosecution for homicide or assault, of evidence of specific acts of violence by deceased, or person assaulted, against others than defendant, 121 A.L.R. 380.

Proof to establish or negative self-defense in civil action for death from intentional act, 17 A.L.R.2d 597.

Danger or apparent danger of great bodily harm or death as condition of self-defense in civil action for assault and battery, personal injury, or death, 25 A.L.R.2d 1215.

Homicide: extent of premises which may be defended without retreat under right of self-defense, 52 A.L.R.2d 1458.

Pleading self-defense or other justification in civil assault and battery action, 67 A.L.R.2d 405.

Admissibility of evidence of uncommunicated threats on issue of self-defense in prosecution for homicide, 98 A.L.R.2d 6.

Civil liability for use of firearm in defense of habitation or property, 100 A.L.R.2d 1021.

Admissibility of evidence as to other's character or reputation for turbulence on question of self-defense by one charged with assault or homicide, 1 A.L.R.3d 571.

Relationship with assailant's wife as provocation depriving defendant of right of self-defense, 9 A.L.R.3d 933.

Homicide: duty to retreat where assailants and assailed share the same living quarters, 26 A.L.R.3d 1296.

Homicide: modern status of rules as to burden and quantum of proof to show self-defense, 43 A.L.R.3d 221.

Unintentional killing of or injury to third person during attempted self-defense, 55 A.L.R.3d 620.

Right to resist excessive force used in accomplishing lawful arrest, 77 A.L.R.3d 281.

Modern status: right of peace officer to use deadly force in attempting to arrest fleeing felon, 83 A.L.R.3d 174.

Homicide: duty to retreat where assailant is social guest on premises, 100 A.L.R.3d 532.

Construction and application of statutes justifying the use of force to prevent the use of force against another, 71 A.L.R.4th 940.

Standard for determination of reasonableness of criminal defendant's belief, for purposes of self-defense claim, that physical force is necessary - modern cases, 73 A.L.R.4th 993.

Admissibility of evidence of battered child syndrome on issue of self-defense, 22 A.L.R.5th 787.

Admissibility of threats to defendant made by third-parties to support claim of self-defense in criminal prosecution for assault or homicide, 55 A.L.R.5th 449.

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