As criminal defense lawyers, we’ve been asked about a person’s legal right to defend themselves against attackers or intruders. In the past, South Carolina imposed a “duty to retreat” on people who were threatened before they were justified in using force against an attacker. This meant they had to try to get away before they could legally fight back. However, this duty had an exception called the “Castle Doctrine” where someone was not required to retreat in their own home.
What Are the Elements of Self Defense in South Carolina?
Under South Carolina common law, you have a right to defend yourself, up to and including the use of deadly force if:
- The situation wasn’t your fault – if you started the fight, you can’t claim self-defense;
- You feared that you might be killed or seriously injured;
- A reasonable person in your situation would have felt the same way; and
- Duty to Retreat – There was no practical way to avoid the danger without resorting to violence.
The “duty to retreat” no longer applies under South Carolina’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
South Carolina’s “Stand Your Ground” Law
The law in South Carolina is a statute called the “Protection of Persons and Property Act.” Due to the television exposure of the Zimmerman case and a few other high-profile cases, many throughout the United States refer to laws like South Carolina’s Protection of Persons and Property Act as the “Stand Your Ground” law. In this article, we explain how “Stand Your Ground” works in South Carolina.
The Protection of Persons and Property Act in South Carolina
According to the Protection of Persons and Property Act (“PPPA”) a/k/a “Stand Your Ground” law, a person has the ability to protect himself or herself, even using deadly force, if someone else is unlawfully and forcefully entering a home or occupied vehicle, or if someone is removing or attempting to remove another person against his will from the home or occupied vehicle. A reading of the current law doesn’t appear to require it to be YOUR home or vehicle, so long as you were invited to be in the home or vehicle by the owner or person living there.
The PPPA DOESN’T apply if:
The “intruder” has a right to be in the home or occupied vehicle, such as being a resident, an owner, a tenant, or titleholder to the property or vehicle. We caution you that if you invited this person into your home, and then later kick them out, you are likely not entitled to protection under the law. On May 7, 2014, the South Carolina Court of Appeals issued an opinion in State v. Manning stated that “Stand Your Ground” does not apply if the person was invited into your home. If you shoot someone and go to trial, the jury may still be told that they can consider other defenses, such as the old Castle Doctrine Law or the law of self-defense, but immunity under the “Stand Your Ground” statute is out.
The person being removed from the home or vehicle is a child, grandchild, or person under the lawful guardianship of the “intruder.”
You are engaged in an unlawful activity or using the home or vehicle in furtherance of unlawful activity. The law does not define “unlawful activity.” However, if you were conducting a drug deal in your house when the incident occurs, you are probably not protected by the statute.
- The “intruder” is a law enforcement officer performing his duties, so long as the person defending himself knew or reasonably should have known it was a police officer.
Protections Under “Stand Your Ground” Outside of a Home or Vehicle
The protections of “Stand Your Ground” extend outside of a home and vehicle also. If you aren’t engaged in unlawful activity, and you are attacked, you can “stand your ground” and meet the attack with force, including deadly force, if you reasonably believe that your force is necessary to protect you or someone else from death or great bodily injury or to prevent the commission of a violent crime. You don’t have a duty to retreat. This protection applies in public, such as on a sidewalk or at the mall, or at your business.
Distinguishing Between “In a Home or Vehicle” vs. “In Public or at Your Business”
In reading the law, the main distinction we see is that if you are in a home or vehicle, you don’t have to be attacked. It’s enough that someone is trying to break in. However, if you are walking down the street or in your business, the law requires you to actually be attacked or on the verge of being attacked. South Carolina’s appellate courts haven’t yet answered this question for sure.
Who Has the Burden of Proof of Self-Defense in South Carolina?
If you raise a credible claim of self-defense, defense of others or immunity from prosecution under South Carolina’s stand your ground law, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to disprove the elements of self-defense.
Urban Myths About Self-Defense in South Carolina
We’ve had many people ask us if a couple of things are true. First, we have been asked by gun owners, “If I shoot someone on my front porch, I should drag them inside before the cops get there, right?” Our answer is “No!” Maybe that had a chance at working 100 years ago, but with modern-day forensics, it is very likely that due to body fluids, ballistics, and other evidence, they will figure out what actually happened. Then, your motives will be questioned. Also, under today’s law, if you truly believe someone is about the forcefully enter your home, even if they haven’t done so, the “Stand Your Ground” protections may apply even on your front porch. You might be able to argue that you were being attacked or that the person was about to forcefully enter the home. If you were in your front yard or down the street, it will be harder to convince the judge that the person was about to break in, which will leave you having to show that you were protecting yourself or someone else from death or great bodily injury.
Another thing people have asked is that if someone breaks into their home, and they shoot that person, should they shoot a few more times into the wall? The premise behind this is that by making it look like you missed some shots before hitting one or two, people think you can argue that you were truly nervous and in fear. Again, you never know what forensics might discover. Also, if you are ever in that situation, between your fear, your adrenaline, and many other emotions, trying to worry about whether to shoot the wall a few times is probably the least of your worries. Just use your head, evaluate the situation, and handle it as you think best based upon what you see and hear at the time. There are no bright-line rules to these situations.
We do recommend that if you are a gun owner, you basically do a “fire drill” with those in your home so that they know what you, the gun owner, intend to do if you hear someone in your house in the middle of the night. Where do you intend to position yourself? What should others in your home do or where should they hide? Is it better for them to try to call the police or lay low? Only you know the layout of your home and the maturity and experience of those living with you. Use your common sense and make a safety plan. And keep those guns out of kids’ reach!
Download Our Free Book on Gun Laws in South Carolina
Stephan Futeral’s and Thomas Nelson’s Book, “Gun Laws in South Carolina – Piecing It All Together,” is available for FREE on the iTunes® Bookstore or as a PDF. Based on over 30 years of their combined experience, Stephan and Thomas wrote this book in easy-to-understand terms to explain the laws and your rights in South Carolina when you own, carry, or use a firearm. If you own a weapon such as a handgun or if you have a Concealed Weapons Permit, then this book is a MUST READ.