A Look at Current Self-defense Common Law in Virginia

Here is some great information Mr. Van Cleave from the VCDL gave me permission to re-publish.


Virginia currently has excellent protections for those involved in the use of force for self-defense.  Our protections are much broader than the “Castle Doctrines” that many states have.  True “Castle Doctrine” bills provide protection only in a person’s home, while Virginia common law provides protections everywhere you might be – at home, in the yard, at work, at the store, in church, etc.  Some states desperately needed “Castle Doctrine” laws, as their existing laws were horrible on self-defense.  Many required a person to retreat EVEN IN THEIR OWN HOME!  Not true in Virginia.
Virginia is a “stand-your-ground” state.  That means AS LONG AS YOU ARE NOT PART OF “THE PROBLEM” and are innocent, you can stand your ground and use force to defend yourself wherever you may be.  Deadly force is only allowed if you are under IMMEDIATE threat and you reasonably fear that you, or another innocent party, will be killed or be grievously injured.  The death of an attacker caused by use of such deadly force is considered “justifiable homicide.”  Note that you don’t actually have to be in a deadly situation, but only have a REASONABLE FEAR that you are in such a situation, to be justified in the use of deadly force.  For example, if someone tries to rob you with a toy gun and you don’t know it’s a toy gun, you would be justified in responding with deadly force since you would reasonably fear that your life was in immediate danger.

If you are part of “the problem,” say by making an obscene gesture or yelling a threat at someone, then, if attacked, you MUST RETREAT.  The retreat must be as far as you can reasonably go and you must indicate that you give up the fight.  Then, and only then, if the attacker persists, can you use force against them.  If they are trying to kill you or grievously injure you, and they die because of your use of deadly force, it is considered “excusable homicide,” a lower standard than “justifiable homicide.”  Moral to the story:  don’t give up your right to stand-your-ground by being part of the problem – ever.

The reason that a person who is part of the problem is required to retreat is to avoid someone committing murder under the guise of self-defense.  Otherwise, a murderer could intentionally badger a victim to the point that the victim attacks out of sheer anger or frustration.  At that point the murderer, standing his ground, could use that attack as an excuse to kill the victim “in self-defense,” getting away with murder legally.  Not good, not acceptable, and not legal.

Would common law or the “Castle Doctrine” bills GUARANTEE that a person legally defending themselves could NOT be charged with murder or sued civilly?  NO.  If the police and/or the Commonwealth Attorney have reason to believe, rightly or wrongly, that you committed a murder instead of true self-defense, you are going to be arrested and charged.  Period.  As far as a civil suit, you can be sued for anything and nothing can stop that either.  However, common law (and the wording in the Castle Doctrine bills) provide a defense.  However, the common law provides the same defense wherever you may be, while the “Castle Doctrine” would only apply inside your dwelling.

Author: VCDL

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