Self-defense laws in the US typically justify a person’s use of lethal force in public in situations where lethal force was necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm to themselves or another person. Traditionally, these laws have been clear that taking human life is not necessary, and is therefore not justified, if the person could have avoided using lethal violence by retreating, or simply stepping away from a confrontation. A person does not have a duty to retreat from a conflict before using force in their home, however (known as the Castle Doctrine).1
Stand your ground laws upend centuries of legal tradition, allowing a person to use deadly force in self-defense in public, even if that force can be safely avoided by retreating or when nonlethal force would suffice.
Though Virginia does not have a stand your ground statute, the state courts have held that there is no duty to retreat before using force in public.2
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- American Bar Association, “National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws: Report and Recommendations,” (September 2015): 1.
- Foote v. Commonwealth, 11 Va. App. 61, 67 (1990) (citing McCoy v. Commonwealth, 125 Va. 771, 775 (1919).).