When it's OK to kill in S.C. 

How and where to 'Stand Your Ground'

At a rally last Thursday, people signed a poster in memory of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teenager who was killed by a man who believed he was protected by the state's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense laws. South Carolina's laws are similar to Florida's.

Paul Bowers

At a rally last Thursday, people signed a poster in memory of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teenager who was killed by a man who believed he was protected by the state's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense laws. South Carolina's laws are similar to Florida's.

In South Carolina, your home is your castle. So is your car, and so is your business. Under the state's interpretation of the "castle doctrine," as amended in 2006, civilians are allowed to use deadly force to defend themselves, but they have to meet certain requirements. Basically, if you are out in a neighborhood (like George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., in February) or in another public place, you are on shaky legal ground if you pull out a weapon. And you are probably not getting off the hook if the incident happens in a place where you have no right to be.

But unlike some other states, in South Carolina you are not required to retreat before you come out with guns blazing at in your home, car, or business. That's why, as in Florida and 23 other states, this type of law is known as a "Stand Your Ground" law. Our state holds that a person who is being attacked in his castle "has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground and meet force with force."

So, as the Clash would say, know your rights. Police can't arrest you for defending yourself unless they have probable cause to believe you were acting outside of the law. Here's when it's OK for a law-abiding citizen to open fire on an assailant:

WHERE: The law protects you from prosecution if you can prove you were defending yourself in one of the following places — provided you are an owner, resident, or invited guest:

• house

• apartment

• condo

• hotel room

• porch

• mobile home

• tent

• place of business

• vehicle, motorized or non-motorized

DANGER: A second requirement is that your assailant must be putting you in danger of "great bodily injury," which the law defines as something that "creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member or organ." You're clear to defend yourself with deadly force if your attacker is:

• in the process of unlawfully breaking and entering your home, vehicle, or business, or

• attempting to forcibly remove somebody from your home, vehicle, or business

WHO: You can't shoot somebody who is a lawful resident, owner, lessee, or titleholder of the place you are trying to defend. The law also doesn't protect you if you shoot someone for trying to remove his or her child, grandchild, or other person who is under his or her lawful custody or guardianship. And you can't shoot at an on-duty police officer.


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