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Virginia law protects your right to defend yourself when facing an imminent threat. However, there are limits to your right to self-defense, and the laws surrounding self-defense are complicated and often determined on a case by case basis. In some cases, people unknowingly cross the line in their efforts to keep themselves safe. When does self-defense become a crime? The following should clear up your confusion:

What Are Virginia’s Self-Defense Laws?

Under Virginia law, you can claim self-defense if:

The Amount of force used to defend oneself must not be excessive and must be reasonable in relation to the perceived threat. Keep in mind that self-defense law is not codified by statute and reasonableness of force is a determined based upon the evidence of each case.

Self-defense Categories:

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?

Fear of a person is not enough. There must be an overt act toward you which is threatening. You must be able to state to the court that the assailant acted in a threatening manner regarding your safety or your life. 

For example, it’s not enough to say that someone “looked threatening” to warrant forceful self-defense. 

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 Dorsk Law Office, plc. 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.

Call today at 757-423-0271 


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