What Are the Rules for Raising Self-Defense in a Criminal Case in South Carolina?
South Carolina’s Protection of Persons and Property Act, also called the “Castle Doctrine” or “Stand Your Ground” law, states that law-abiding citizens have the right to protect themselves and others from risk of death or great bodily injury caused by another person. What this means is that if you or someone else is being or may be attacked by a person engaged in criminal behavior, you have the right to use force against the attacker.
However, the self-defense law doesn’t apply to every situation in which force is used against someone else, and it’s important to know the specifics of this statute to understand when and where you can defend yourself and others. A misunderstanding or misapplication of the law could result in a conviction for a felony offense such as assault or murder.
Where Does the Self-Defense Law Apply?
The Protection of Persons and Property Act (statute S.C. 16-11-410) recognizes that citizens should be safe in places where they are legally allowed to be.
The law specifically identifies such locations as a person’s:
- Dwelling: Includes temporary or permanent buildings or conveyances that have roofs and are designed for people to sleep in at night.
- Residence: Includes a dwelling that a person stays in either permanently or temporarily as a resident or visitor.
- Occupied vehicle: Includes a motorized or non-motorized conveyance that transports people or property.
Statute S.C. 16-11-410 also states that a person may be allowed to use force against an attacker in locations other than those listed above, which include, but are not limited to, the individual’s place of business.
Although you can expect to be safe in the locations identified by the law, that doesn’t mean that if someone is in your home or car and they upset you, you can use force against them. The individual must have been doing something that put the health of you and/or others at risk.
When Does the Self-Defense Law Apply?
If you used force against someone else, you must have had a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury. Statute S.C. 16-11-410 defines great bodily injury as harm that places a person at substantial risk of death or causes serious, permanent disfigurement or results in the loss of the use of a limb or organ. The law states that your use of force may be justified whether you were afraid for your own safety or that of someone else.
According to the law, a person is considered to have been afraid for the health of themselves or others if the person they used force against was:
- Unlawfully or forcefully entering their home or vehicle, or
- Removing or attempting to remove another individual from their home or car
The law presumes that if a person enters a place illegally, they are doing so to commit a crime involving force or violence. Basically, what the law means is that if someone breaks into your home at night, you may have the right to use force against them.
However, there are some important exceptions to note about this law:
- First, if the person who entered your home or vehicle had a legal right to be there, your use of force might not be justified. For instance, say the intruder was an owner, lessee, or titleholder of the space, they could not be said to have entered it unlawfully.
- Second, say there is a child in your home, and their parent, grandparent, or legal guardian went to remove them. If you used force against that individual and you are tried for an offense, you may not be able to raise the self-defense law in your case.
- Third, if you were engaged in unlawful activity when the intruder entered your home or car, the self-defense law does not apply. For instance, say you were using your vehicle as a getaway car for a robbery, and another person got in to try to stop you from furthering the offense. Using force in that situation may not be protected by the law.
- Fourth, if the person entering your home or vehicle was a law enforcement officer performing official duties, and they announced themselves or you reasonably should have known their position, your use of force would not be justified if you are taken to trial for assault or murder.
But what about situations in which a person makes you fear that you or someone else is at risk of death or great bodily injury, and you’re not at home or in your car? Is it lawful to use force against them? That depends on the specifics.
The law states that, in such a situation:
- You do not have a duty to retreat,
- You have the right to stand your ground, and
- You can meet force with force
However, to be able to defend your actions, you must not have been committing a crime at the time force was used, and you must have had a right to be in the area (for instance, if you were at work).
Reach Out to Hisker Law Firm, PC Today
If you were charged with an offense after defending yourself or someone else, contact our skilled attorney today. We will review the facts of your situation to protect your rights and build a compelling legal strategy on your behalf.
For 24/7 criminal defense in Greenville, call us at (864) 610-1277 or contact us online.