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Is There a Duty to Retreat Under Virginia Criminal Law?

One of the perennially controversial topics in criminal law – and one that we still see discussed vigorously today – is about the so-called “duty to retreat,” which deals with the question of when an otherwise criminal act of violence is justified by self-defense. Different states have different approaches, with some states employing the duty to retreat approach, which means a defendant cannot successfully assert self-defense if he had the ability to retreat safely from a situation without carrying out violence. Other states do not require that a defendant retreat (if it can be done safely) before carrying out a violent act in self-defense, and these states are sometimes referred to as having a “stand your ground” law, essentially meaning a defendant does not have to retreat. Virginia does not have a duty to retreat, and instead employs the approaches of “justifiable self-defense” and “excusable self-defense.”

Justifiable Self-Defense

If you were not at fault in starting an altercation with another person in Virginia, and that person is indeed the one who initially threatened or carried out an act of physical violence, then you have the right to defend yourself without having to determine whether you can retreat safely. This concept is called “justifiable self-defense” and, if your attorney is able to present a compelling case why it applies to your situation, it can result in a complete acquittal of all criminal charges for violence, including manslaughter and murder.

Excusable Self-Defense

The concept of excusable self-defense is related to justifiable self-defense although a bit different. Justifiable self-defense applies where the defendant had no criminal fault in starting the altercation, but, with the concept of excusable self-defense, a defendant can evade criminal liability if he did indeed start the altercation but then attempted to escape from the situation once it escalated and yet the other party continued to pursue him. In other words, if you start an altercation, then try to exit the situation and the other person continues to come after you in a threatening manner despite your attempts to retreat, you can legally defend yourself based on the concept of excusable self-defense.

In all situations, you as a criminal suspect and/or defendant should never attempt to legally defend yourself to police officers, investigators, and/or prosecutors, and should exercise your right to remain silent and speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can guide you in presenting your best defense.

Experienced Virginia Criminal Defense Attorneys On Your Side

If you have been arrested for or are under investigation for assault, battery, homicide, or any other crime of violence in Virginia, the criminal defense attorneys at Kurylo Gold & Josey, PLC in Fredericksburg, Virginia are here to help. We will fully investigate all potential defenses and do whatever it takes to protect your reputation and your future. Contact us today to schedule a consultation regarding your situation.