Defining “Self-Defense” in Virginia

Do you know what the law says in Virginia when it comes to defending yourself, your family and your property from a threat? In Virginia, the law does allow you to defend your home and your family, however there are a few limitations and it can be quite complex. Sometimes you may think that you are within your rights but end up unknowingly overstepping your boundaries.

Keep reading to learn more about what exactly are your rights in Virginia when it comes to self-defense, and how it can also apply to ‘Battered Women’s Syndrome’.

What is “Self Defense” in Virginia?

Virginia does recognize common law self-defense. This means you can claim self-defense if you reasonably believe that you are facing an immediate, real threat to your safety and your response to the threat is also reasonable. This may sound simple but claiming self-defense is actually more complex than you may realize. There are two types of self-defense that could apply to your situation:

  • Justifiable self-defense (without fault) – This is likely what you think of as “self-defense”. This is defense of your body or property that occurred without any provocation from yourself, and does not use excessive force.
  • Justifiable self-defense (with fault) – If you were the aggressor, you may claim “excusable” self-defense in certain situations. You must be able to prove you either retreated or abandoned the conflict and sought a peaceful resolution before you claim this type of self-defense. Reasonable force is also a requirement for this type of legal defense.

What Isn’t Self-Defense?

It’s natural to feel a great deal of fear or panic in a situation where you are under attack. However, being scared won’t be able to support your claim of self-defense if a judge or jury deems your use of force excessive. There must be a direct action that caused you to use force to protect yourself. For example, a person shouting and holding a weapon in your face could justify self-defense, whereas a person standing quietly and wearing a dark hoodie wouldn’t.

Defense of Others

Virginia also recognizes the defense of others and your home. There are two major provisions under the law:

  • Castle Doctrine – Under Virginia “Castle Doctrine”, you are allowed to protect your home, or “castle”, when you have reason to believe that the person (or people) entering your home will try to cause you great bodily harm or death. You are not obliged to retreat.
  • Virginia and “Stand Your Ground” – Virginia does not have a “stand your ground” statute. Instead, Virginia law has a “no retreat” rule under certain circumstances. Basically, if you do not provoke aggressive behavior, you don’t have to retreat before protecting yourself. However, if you are at fault, you must retreat and cannot “stand your ground”.

Battered Women’s Syndrome

Typically, self-defense applies where the defendant was in imminent and immediate risk of danger. For example, when an intruder in your home threatens you and you shoot them.

Battered Women’s Syndrome, is considered a subcategory of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can apply to men or women who have experienced domestic abuse. In situations where the defendant has been abused or terrorized over a period of time (like with Battered Women’s Syndrome), the case must be presented through a different lens. It recognizes that when a defendant has been abused and traumatized in the past, that history is relevant in determining whether they were justified in using self-defense in a particular situation.

For example, in 2017, here at The Center for Criminal and Immigration Law (TCCIL) represented a young woman in Virginia.  She had stabbed and injured her boyfriend, and the police charged her with malicious wounding – a serious felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. We took the case to trial and presented strong evidence that the “victim” (her boyfriend) had cruelly and violently abused our client throughout the course of their two-year relationship. One day, as he was assaulting her, she fought back to defend herself and ended up stabbing and injuring him. After hearing all of the evidence, the judge found her not guilty and dismissed the case. She was able to return home to her two young children.

Contact The Center for Criminal and Immigration Law with Questions About Your Right to Self-Defense in Virginia

Self-defense is an important right for every American but can be a minefield to navigate. If you believe you have acted in self-defense, we strongly recommend speaking to an attorney as soon as possible after the incident. Even when you clearly acted in self-defense, you may still be charged and prosecuted with a crime. The Center for Criminal and Immigration Law is a boutique law firm in Virginia that has years of experience defending the rights of Virginians. Contact us today for a free consultation!

If you are facing abuse please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

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