What are the self-defense laws in SC, and does SC have a “stand your ground” law?
If you know the rules and follow them when an unexpected violent situation arises, you can hopefully avoid getting charged with murder when you are forced to defend yourself.
And, if you are charged with murder, attempted murder, or assault, it might be easier for your defense lawyer to get your charges dismissed, win a “stand your ground hearing” before your trial, or win an acquittal at trial.
In this article, we will cover the basics of SC’s rules for self-defense, including:
- SC’s self-defense laws,
- The elements of self-defense in SC, and
- The details of SC’s stand your ground law.
What are the Self-Defense Laws in SC?
SC’s self-defense laws were largely replaced by the Protection of Persons and Property Act (SC’s Stand Your Ground law), but, in any situation where the stand your ground law does not apply, SC courts will still rely on the previous self-defense rules at your trial.
What are the Elements of Self-Defense in SC?
Once a defendant has raised the issue of self-defense at trial, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to disprove – beyond any reasonable doubt – at least one of the elements of self-defense.
- You had no part in bringing on the difficulty – if you started the fight or willingly participated in the fight, you cannot claim self-defense,
- You had a reasonable fear of death or serious injury, and
- There was no way that you could avoid the danger – before the passage of SC’s stand your ground law, there was a duty to retreat.
The Castle Doctrine
SC’s castle doctrine is pretty much moot after the passage of the Protection of Persons and Property Act which codified the castle doctrine.
The prior law said that if you are in your home when you are attacked by a person, you have no duty to retreat. Your home is your castle, and you have every right to stand your ground and defend yourself and your family when you are threatened in your home.
This is also the premise of SC’s stand your ground law, except it expanded the idea of no duty to retreat to any place where you have a right to be.
Defense of Others
The right to defend yourself also includes the right to defend others – if someone is being attacked, and if they would have the right to defend themselves (the elements of self-defense we discussed above are present), then you have the right to defend that person.
Take care, however, because if that person did not have the right to defend themselves, and you misunderstood the situation, you cannot then claim self-defense or defense of others, and you could be charged with and convicted of murder or assault charges…
Does SC Have a Stand Your Ground Law?
SC’s Protection of Persons and Property Act codified the castle doctrine and expanded on SC’s self-defense rules by:
- Doing away with the duty to retreat when you are in a place you have a legal right to be,
- Creating a presumption that deadly force is justified any time a person attempts to enter or remove someone from a vehicle or dwelling, and
- Granting criminal and civil immunity to any person who follows the rules in the stand your ground law.
There is no Duty to Retreat – You can Stand Your Ground
Section 16-11-440(C) does away with the duty to retreat if a person is attacked in any place they have a right to be (your home, your car, your place of business, a sidewalk, a grocery store, etc.), and authorizes the use of deadly force when it is necessary to prevent death, great bodily injury, or the prevention of a violent crime:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in another place where he has a right to be, including, but not limited to, his place of business, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or another person or to prevent the commission of a violent crime as defined in Section 16-1-60.
When Someone Forces Entry into a Home or Vehicle
Section 16-11-440(A) says that, if a person is unlawfully and forcibly entering, or unlawfully and forcibly attempting to remove a person from a dwelling or occupied vehicle, there is a presumption that deadly force is justified:
(A) A person is presumed to have a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to himself or another person when using deadly force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury to another person if the person:
(1) against whom the deadly force is used is in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or has unlawfully and forcibly entered a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if he removes or is attempting to remove another person against his will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and
(2) who uses deadly force knows or has reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act is occurring or has occurred.
Criminal and Civil Immunity When the Act Applies
Another important aspect of SC’s stand your ground law is that the law grants criminal and civil immunity to any person who complies with the Protection of Persons and Property Act:
(A) A person who uses deadly force as permitted by the provisions of this article or another applicable provision of law is justified in using deadly force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of deadly force, unless the person against whom deadly force was used is a law enforcement officer acting in the performance of his official duties and he identifies himself in accordance with applicable law or the person using deadly force knows or reasonably should have known that the person is a law enforcement officer.
(B) A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of deadly force as described in subsection (A), but the agency may not arrest the person for using deadly force unless probable cause exists that the deadly force used was unlawful.
(C) The court shall award reasonable attorneys’ fees, court costs, compensation for loss of income, and all expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of a civil action brought by a plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant is immune from prosecution as provided in subsection (A).
This means that 1) you cannot be sued for damages if the attacker is injured, and 2) you cannot be forced to stand trial for murder or assault based on your actions.
In some cases, law enforcement officers will recognize that a situation falls under the Protection of Persons and Property Act, possibly consult with the on-call solicitor, and decide not to charge the person who was acting in self-defense.
In cases where law enforcement arrests and charges you anyway, SC’s appellate courts have held that you are entitled to a “stand your ground hearing” before your trial begins. Immunity means you should not be forced to stand trial, and, if the court is persuaded by the evidence that you were acting lawfully pursuant to SC’s stand your ground laws, your case should be dismissed.
Criminal Defense Lawyers in Columbia, SC, and Myrtle Beach, SC
The criminal defense attorneys at the Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm focus exclusively on criminal defense cases in SC. We have obtained dismissals, pre-trial diversion resulting in dismissals, or acquittals following trial in hundreds of criminal cases, and we have a record of proven results.
If you have been charged with a crime in SC or if you think you may be under investigation, call us now at 843-444-6122 or contact us through our website for a free initial consultation to find out if we can help.