The Georgia Supreme Court recently ruled that schools cannot expel students for fighting if they can prove it was in self-defense, according to an article posted by the Atlanta Constitution-Journal. The ruling has altered the trajectories of countless students. State law does not make fighting illegal as long as the blows are in defense of oneself. The state’s supreme court held that this law applies to schools.
The Case at Issue
State law does not require someone to retreat if he or she reasonably believes there is a risk of harm from another’s imminent use of unlawful force, according to the court’s decision. The case was filed by an anonymous student who was expelled from a Henry County school. While the court’s decision did not change the law radically, it was the first time it ruled on a disciplinary case regarding the school districts. The plaintiff was kicked out of school over three years ago for fighting. During her disciplinary hearing, she testified that she was pushed first before she punched the other student. While she did not use the specific words “self-defense” the court noted the school district improperly never considered it. As a result, the court ordered Henry County reconsider the student’s case.
Many school districts have adopted a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to fighting and expels anyone involved in a scuffle no matter the intention. Studies have shown that these policies increase the rate of suspensions and expulsions.
While the Georgia Supreme Court did not actually rule on whether self-defense applies in schools, the Appeals court did and the higher court supported that ruling. The appellate court ruled against Henry but also imposed a strict standard, placing the burden of proof on the school to disprove an assertion of self-defense. The ruling effectively made the school district’s criminal prosecutors shoulder the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the expelled student was the aggressor. The state supreme court, however, knocked down that rule and instead imposed a “more likely than not” burden on the school district. The supreme court also places the onus on the student to prove the act was in self-defense.
Contact a Georgia Lawyer
If you or someone you care about has been expelled or suspended from school for fighting, and he or she acted in self-defense, contact a knowledgeable Georgia attorney right away.