Can You Shoot Someone Breaking Into Your Car?

Written By: Darl Champion

Date Posted: 09.05.23

Category: General

A string of alleged car break-ins in the Metro Atlanta area has some citizens wondering what the legal implications are of using deadline force to prevent break-ins or theft of their vehicles. Here’s what you need to know. 

Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes only. The Champion Firm does not represent anyone involved in these incidents at the time of this post’s writing.

Atlanta Car Break-Ins Lead to 4 Shot, 1 Dead

Last week, four people were shot related to alleged car break-ins in DeKalb County, Midtown, and South Fulton, with one person dying as a result. 

In one incident in South Fulton, a homeowner perceived someone breaking into a car and confronted the individual. The individual, later revealed to be a 16-year-old, pulled out a gun and fired at the homeowner, who then also shot back at the teenager, hitting them in the head. The teen was taken to the hospital in critical condition. News outlets have reported the teenager was part of a group that was breaking into cars in Riveroak Terrace.  

In a separate and unrelated incident, a homeowner similarly confronted two individuals perceived to be breaking into a car in DeKalb County. When confronted, one of the individuals pointed a gun at the homeowner, but the homeowner fired their own weapon at the suspects first, hitting both of them. In this incident, one of the individuals was also a minor. Both were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. 

In still another incident that occurred in a parking garage in Midtown Atlanta, multiple people were reportedly breaking into vehicles and, before leaving the scene, fired guns at random in the garage. An innocent bystander was shot and killed. 

With so many instances of break-in-related shootings, Atlanta residents might understandably feel concerned for their personal safety. But do you have the legal right to shoot someone for breaking into your car? 

Can You Shoot Someone Breaking Into Your Car in Georgia?

Georgia has laws on the books that state when deadly force can be used. Generally speaking, deadly force cannot be used to protect personal property, like your car. But deadly force can be used to protect lives or your home.

The first statute to be aware of is O.C.G.A. § 16-3-21. This statute provides:

A person is justified in threatening or using force against another when and to the extent that he or she reasonably believes that such threat or force is necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person against such other’s imminent use of unlawful force; however, except as provided in Code Section 16-3-23, a person is justified in using force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or herself or a third person or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

O.C.G.A. § 16-3-23 is a separate statute that applies to the “defense of habitation.” Generally speaking, deadly force can be used if somebody is unlawfully and forcibly entering your house.

When it comes to vehicles though, you cannot use deadly force against somebody who is breaking your car or trying to steal it.

In some of the situations mentioned above, the owner confronted the criminal and the criminal pulled out a gun. In that scenario, the owner of the vehicle could be used deadline force. That is because the deadly force would not be used to protect the vehicle. Instead, it would be used to “prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or herself or a third person or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

Even if deadly force can legally be used against somebody you confront who produces a gun, the safest course of action is to avoid confronting somebody who is breaking into your car. This will help keep you, your family, and innocent bystanders safe.

If you or someone you know has experienced an injury as a result of someone else’s negligence, contact The Champion Firm today for a free case consultation. Our contingency fee structure means you only pay for our services if and when we win your case.

About the Author

Darl Champion is an award-winning personal injury lawyer serving the greater Metro Atlanta area. He is passionate about ensuring his clients are fully compensated when they are harmed by someone’s negligence. Learn more about Darl here.