It’s nerve-wracking to face criminal charges for a physical confrontation with someone else that resulted in injury or even death. It can be even worse when you know that you were not responsible for starting the altercation, but that you acted to defend yourself or someone else. How can your attorney prove that you did what you did out of self-defense, and not out of a desire to commit a violent crime?
Elements of self-defense
Unlike in many other states, in Virginia you do not have a legal duty to retreat from danger before engaging in self-defense. This means that, if someone attacks you or someone near you, you can defend yourself or others without having to run away first.
Virginia law gives you a defense to battery or murder charges if you reasonably believed that the force you used against the attacker was necessary to protect yourself or others.
You must use proportional force. This means that you cannot use deadly force to defend against non-deadly force. In other words, you won’t be legally protected if you used a deadly weapon to protect yourself against an unarmed attacker, unless you reasonably believed that the attacker was about to inflict grave bodily harm or death upon you or another.
The reasonableness requirement
Self-defense is a legitimate legal defense only when the court determines that you reasonably believed that the force was necessary under the circumstances.
When a court is determining how reasonable your belief in the need for self-defense was, they will compare your actions to those of the hypothetical average reasonable person. If the typical reasonable person would have felt threatened and in need of self-defense in your position, the court will likely decide that your actions were justified.
Conflicts between people happen, and sometimes things get ugly. As long as your attorney can prove that you acted reasonably and proportionally, you should be able to use the self-defense defense to your criminal charges.