What are the self defense laws in SC, and how does SC’s Stand Your Ground law work?
In a general, most people understand that you have the right to defend yourself, and many people have heard that SC’s stand your ground law means that you don’t have to retreat if you are attacked, but the details matter.
Why does it matter? If you find yourself in a difficult situation, and you get it wrong, you could be facing 30 years to life for murder…
In this article, we will discuss SC’s self defense laws, including:
- The elements of self defense in SC,
- The Castle Doctrine,
- Defense of Others, and
- SC’s Stand Your Ground law.
What are the Self Defense Laws in SC?
Before the Protection of Persons and Property Act (SC’s Stand Your Ground law) was passed, SC law on self defense was governed by common law – appellate opinions that defined self defense, the Castle Doctrine, defense of others, and when a killing was justified.
What are the Elements of Self Defense in SC?
Under SC’s common law elements of self defense (some of which no longer apply in murder prosecutions), you had a right to defend yourself, even using deadly force, when:
- You did not bring on the difficulty yourself – you can’t start a fight with someone and then claim self defense,
- You had a reasonable fear that you would be killed or seriously injured, and
- There was no way to avoid the danger without defending yourself (you had a duty to retreat).
That duty to retreat is one of the biggest changes in SC’s Stand Your Ground Law – there is no longer a duty to retreat if you are in a place you have a right to be.
The Castle Doctrine
Before SC’s Stand Your Ground Law was passed, SC followed the Castle Doctrine – if someone enters your home, there is no longer a duty to retreat. Your home is your castle, and you have the right to fight to the death defending it.
Defense of Others
“Defense of others” is another SC self defense law that was incorporated into the Protection of Persons and Property Act.
If you see another person who is being attacked, and if that person would have the right to defend themselves under SC self defense law, then you have the right to step in and defend that person.
Defense of others can be dangerous – what if you misunderstood the situation, and the other person did not have the right to act in self defense?
SC’s Stand Your Ground Law
Some of SC’s self defense laws were incorporated into our Stand Your Ground Law – defense of others and the Castle Doctrine, for example.
The Act made several important changes, however, including removing the duty to retreat – if you are attacked anywhere that you have a right to be, you have the right to stand your ground and defend yourself, and you are no longer required to turn and run from the danger.
What other changes were made in the Protection of Persons and Property Act?
The SC Protection of Persons and Property Act
The SC Protection of Persons and Property Act is found beginning at SC Code Section 16-11-410.
No Duty to Retreat
Section 16-11-440(C) says that there is no longer a duty to retreat before defending yourself or others:
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.
Forceful Entry to a Home or Vehicle
Section 16-11-440(A) says that there is a presumption that deadly force is justified when another person is unlawfully and forcefully entering, has unlawfully and forcibly entered, or attempts to remove a person against their will from a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle:
(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.
Immunity from Criminal Prosecution and Civil Actions
SC Code 16-11-450 says that any person who uses deadly force pursuant to the Stand Your Ground law will have immunity from criminal prosecution and from civil lawsuits:
(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).
What happens if the police arrest you anyway?
Although law enforcement is expected to read, understand, and interpret the Stand Your Ground law so as not to arrest someone who was complying with it, they will make unjustified arrests and they will make arrests when they think it is a close call.
In this situation, you are entitled to a “stand your ground hearing” before your case goes to trial – if the court finds that you were acting in self defense as authorized by SC self defense law, your case should be dismissed.
If you have been charged with murder in SC when you were defending yourself or others, you are entitled to a stand your ground hearing to determine whether your actions were justified by SC self defense laws.