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Our legal team is proud to serve clients in Roanoke and throughout central and southwest Virginia.

When is Self-Defense in Virginia a Crime?

On Behalf of | Apr 17, 2019 | Criminal Law

In Virginia, the law allows you to defend yourself, your family, and your home when you are facing an imminent threat. However, there are limits to your right to self-defense, and the laws surrounding self-defense are complex. In some cases, people unknowingly cross the line in their efforts to keep themselves safe. Keep reading to learn more about when self-defense becomes a crime in Virginia.

What Are Virginia’s Self-Defense Laws?
Under Virginia law, you can claim self-defense if:

• You reasonably believe that you are facing an immediate, real threat to your safety.
• Your response to the threat is also reasonable.

While this may sound simple, claiming self-defense is complex. Depending on the situation, there are different categories of self-defense that may apply.

Justifiable Self-Defense (Without Fault)

Justifiable self-defense is the purest form of self-defense. For self-defense to be considered justifiable, you cannot provoke or instigate the attack or use excessive force.

Excusable Self-Defense (With Fault)

If you were an aggressor or provoked violence, you may claim “excusable” self-defense under certain circumstances. However, you must either retreat or abandon the conflict and announce a desire for peace before you can claim self-defense. Again, you can only use reasonable force to protect yourself.

What Is Not Considered Self-Defense in Virginia?

During an attack, it’s natural to feel panic or fear. Making good judgment calls can be difficult, especially when you’re scared. However, being scared is not enough to successfully claim that a counter-attack was made in self-defense. There must be a reason other than fear, like an overt action, that caused you to believe that the only way to protect yourself was by using force.

For example, it’s not enough to say that someone “looked threatening” to warrant forceful self-defense. An attacker shouting threats and brandishing a weapon, for example, could justify forceful self-defense. A person standing quietly wearing a hoodie would not.

Acting in self-defense with unnecessary force can affect your ability to claim that your actions were justifiable or excusable self-defense. While it’s impossible to assess motivations, your actions impact your self-defense claim.

What Is Unnecessary Force?

In cases of self-defense, you cannot use unnecessary or excessive force to protect yourself or your property. An example of unnecessary force could be a victim using force to defend themselves from an attack, then continuing to hurt their attacker after the initial assault is over and the individual has been subdued. Another example is when someone uses deadly force, or the threat of deadly force, to defend only property.

The use of unnecessary force could affect your ability to claim justifiable or excusable self-defense. If someone is accusing you of using unnecessary force, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer by your side.

Right to Defend Your Home in Virginia

By law, you may defend yourself at home in Virginia, but there are provisions under the law that detail your rights to protect your family and your property.

Virginia’s Castle Doctrine

Under Virginia’s castle doctrine, you are allowed to protect your home — your castle —when you have sufficient reason to believe that the person or people entering will try to cause great bodily harm or death upon entering. You are not obligated to retreat.

Virginia and “Stand Your Ground”

Virginia does not have a “stand your ground” statute. Instead, case law has carved out a “no retreat” rule under certain circumstances. If you did not provoke the aggressive behavior, you do not have to retreat before protecting yourself. However, if you were at fault, you must retreat and cannot “stand your ground.”

Using excessive force when there is no obvious threat (for example, there’s simply a person standing on your porch, versus someone brandishing a knife climbing through your bathroom window) is not grounds for self-defense as the force you used is not on par with the level of actual threat.

Contact Fishwick & Associates with Questions About Your Right to Self-Defense in Virginia

While self-defense is an important right, it’s not without qualifications. There is a lot of gray area around what is or isn’t self-defense, and if you need to claim self-defense after protecting yourself, your family, or your home, you need an experienced lawyer on your side.

John Fishwick has over 30 years of experience defending the rights of Virginia residents and is ready to fight for you. Contact Fishwick & Associates today at 540-345-5890 or fill out our simple online contact form for your self-defense case evaluation.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.