What are the rules for self-defense in South Carolina, and how does South Carolina’s Stand Your Ground law work? 

You have a legal right to defend yourself, but the rules for how and when you are permitted to defend yourself can be different from state to state. In one state, you could avoid arrest altogether, while in another state you could find yourself in jail awaiting trial for murder under the exact same set of facts. 

In this article, you will learn the basics of self-defense in South Carolina, including:

  • The elements of self-defense,
  • The rules for “defense of others,”
  • What the Castle Doctrine is, and
  • How South Carolina’s stand your ground law works.

What are the Rules for Self-Defense in South Carolina?

In any jurisdiction, you may find yourself arrested and charged with murder (or assault and battery) even though you followed the rules.  Self-defense is, unfortunately, often your defense at trial rather than the prosecution’s reason for leniency before trial. 

This is why every person should know the basics of self-defense and whether your state has a stand your ground law – you never know when you will have to defend yourself. Self-defense is often used in response to a sudden and unexpected situation, and your goal is not only to defend yourself, or others, from an attacker, but also to avoid arrest and prosecution.

The Elements of Self-defense in South Carolina

There are four elements of self-defense in South Carolina. If you raise the defense of self-defense and the prosecution can’t disprove one or more of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, jurors must acquit you at trial. They are as follows:

1. You were “without fault in bringing on the difficulty” – you cannot instigate or attack another person and then claim self-defense;

2. You were, or you believed that you were, “in imminent danger of losing [your] life or sustaining serious bodily injury;”

3. “[A] reasonably prudent man of ordinary firmness and courage” would have believed they were in imminent danger if they were in your place – your belief that you were in danger must be objectively reasonable; and

4. There was “no other probable means of avoiding the danger” – before South Carolina’s stand your ground law was passed, there was a duty to retreat unless you were in your own home.

In every case where it applies, South Carolina’s stand your ground law replaces self-defense law in South Carolina. The most important distinction between stand your ground laws and the “old” elements of self-defense law in South Carolina is that element #4, “no other probable means of avoiding the danger,” no longer applies. 

There is no longer a “duty to retreat” in South Carolina if you are attacked in a place where you have a legal right to be, whether that is your home, your business, the sidewalk, or the corner grocery.  

The Castle Doctrine

What is the “Castle Doctrine?” 

Before South Carolina’s stand your ground law was passed, you had a duty to retreat before defending yourself – everywhere except in your own home

The Castle Doctrine is the idea that “your home is your castle,” and you should never be required to retreat from your own castle. If you are forced to defend yourself in your own home, that is where you make your stand to defend yourself, your family, and your property.

Defense of Others

“Defense of others” is another common-law principle that is similar to self-defense. If you see someone else being attacked, you have the right to defend that person to the same extent that they would have had the right to defend themselves. 

Just as an individual has the right to make their stand and defend themselves against attack under South Carolina’s Stand Your Ground Law, you also have the right to defend another person who is being attacked – without first attempting to retreat. 

On the other hand, if you misunderstood that situation, and the person you are defending was not acting lawfully, defense of others may not be an available defense.

Burden of Proof

Once you have raised self-defense, the State has the burden of disproving, beyond a reasonable doubt, at least one of the elements listed above.

South Carolina’s Stand Your Ground Law

South Carolina’s stand your ground laws essentially codified and expanded the Castle Doctrine and self-defense law, removing the duty to retreat if you are attacked outside of home. 

South Carolina’s stand your ground law is also called the “Protection of Persons and Property Act.”

South Carolina’s Protection of Persons and Property Act

The South Carolina Protection of Persons and Property Act replaces the common law elements of self-defense and defense of others described above. The stand your ground law made three important changes to South Carolina’s rules for self-defense:

1. You no longer have a duty to retreat if you are attacked in any place where you have a legal right to be and if there is a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury to either yourself or another person. You can hold your ground and defend yourself.

2. If a person 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,” then there is a presumption that someone who uses deadly force against them has “a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to himself or another person.”

3. A person who uses deadly force pursuant to the stand your ground law is immune from criminal prosecution or civil actions. If they can make a prima facie case that they are immune from prosecution, they are entitled to a hearing where the court will determine whether the stand your ground law applies before they are subjected to a trial.

South Carolina’s self-defense laws still apply, but, in most cases, they must now be interpreted in the context of the Protection of Persons and Property Act – there is no longer a duty to retreat, the “reasonable fear” element of self-defense is presumed when someone is forcibly entering your house or vehicle, and you are immune from prosecution if the Act applies to your situation.

Questions About Self-defense in South Carolina?

If you have been charged with a crime in South Carolina, get an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side immediately who can begin preparing your defense, work to get your case dismissed, negotiate on your behalf, and try your case to a jury when necessary. 

Call 843-761-3840 or use this form to contact us today to discuss your case and start working towards the best possible outcome for you.

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