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Atlanta Criminal Defense Lawyers > Blog > Criminal Defense > Is “Mutual Combat” a Valid Criminal Defense in Georgia?

Is “Mutual Combat” a Valid Criminal Defense in Georgia?


As a general principle of law, a person is entitled to defend themselves against the imminent use of unlawful force. In simple terms, if someone threatens you with a gun, you have the right to stop them using force of your own. You cannot be held criminally liable if your attacker is injured due to your act of self-defense.

But Georgia law also imposes certain limits on self-defense arguments. One such limit is the “mutual combat” rule. Under OCGA § 16-3-21, a person is not justified in using force if they were “engaged in combat by agreement.” Basically, if you agree to fight someone, you cannot then turn around and argue you were defending yourself against unlawful force. The statute contains an exception, however, if you withdraw from combat and “effectively communicate” to the other person that you no longer wish to continue. So if you walk away from the fight and the other person comes after you, then you could be justified in using force to defend yourself.

Georgia Man Convicted of Malice Murder Following Parking Lot Scuffle

There are some criminal cases where a defendant may actually want a jury to find there was mutual combat. Consider a defendant charged with murder. If the defendant can prove they were engaged in mutual combat when the victim died, the jury could choose to convict on a lesser charge of manslaughter.

However, a mutual combat charge may also work against a defendant. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed such a case. In Stewartson v. State, the defendant and the victim lived together as roommates. The victim accused the defendant of stealing his property. This led to an exchange of “threatening text messages,” according to court records. In turn, this led to a confrontation in the parking lot of a DeKalb County strip mall. The defendant had a gun. There was a scuffle. The victim then retrieved an item from his car and approached the defendant again. The defendant then fired his gun, killing the victim.

The state charged the defendant with malice murder. At trial, the defendant argued self-defense. The trial judge, over the defense’s objection, instructed the jury on the law of mutual combat. The jury subsequently found the defendant guilty of murder and several related charges.

On appeal, the defendant argued the mutual combat instruction improperly negated his self-defense argument. The Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld the conviction. The appellate court explained that the evidence introduced at trial supported the mutual combat instruction.

Contact Stewart Hawkins Trial Lawyers Today

If you are charged with any criminal offense involving the use of a weapon, you must be prepared to vigorously defend yourself in court. Our Atlanta gun crimes lawyers can help. Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.



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