The concept of “stand your ground” and similar laws has been in the news recently after several high-profile incidents of people inadvertently going to the wrong address or getting in the wrong car only to be shot. In one incident, a young woman died from her injuries.
The laws of the state you’re in determine whether you have a right to use deadly force to protect yourself rather than retreating from a perceived danger in public. Many people would be surprised to learn that the majority of states have stand your ground or similar laws (like the Castle Doctrine) on the books.
Stand your ground laws
Stand your ground laws state that a person doesn’t have to retreat even if they can safely do so and can use deadly force if they reasonably believe they’re in danger of being killed or suffering serious bodily injury. Castle Doctrine laws follow the same principle, but they apply only to situations where a person is on their own property.
Duty to retreat laws
A smaller number of states (roughly a dozen) have “duty to retreat” laws. These laws state that a person can’t legally use deadly force on someone if they’re able to walk away or otherwise get out of the situation safely.
They follow the more traditional principles of when a person can claim self-defense if charged with a violent crime. For example, if a person pulls a gun on you, you wouldn’t feel safe just turning your back and walking away. However, if an unarmed person walks up to your car and starts yelling at you, you could likely just drive away from them. These are just very general examples. Every situation is unique.
What Virginia law says – and doesn’t say
Virginia doesn’t have either a stand your ground or a duty to retreat law. Nonetheless, state courts have decided that people do not have a duty to retreat before using force if they’re facing a dangerous situation.
If you’re facing criminal charges for a violent act against someone you believed was going to harm you, you can see how the law surrounding your actions is complicated. It’s crucial to have experienced legal guidance to protect your rights and present your defense.