On May 17, 2022, the Virginia Court of Appeals issued an opinion (PDF here) that succinctly reiterated the application of self-defense in criminal cases.
Self-defense is an affirmative defense which the accused must prove by introducing sufficient evidence to raise a reasonable doubt about his guilt. To be entitled to use potentially lethal force in self-defense, a defendant must reasonably fear death or serious bodily harm. Whether the danger is reasonably apparent is judged from the viewpoint of the defendant at the time of the incident. Even if reasonable, a generalized fear of potential harm due to actions occurring in the past is insufficient, rather, a defendant must show that he was in imminent danger of harm, that is, showing of an overt act or other circumstance that affords an immediate threat to safety.Meade v. Commonwealth
This means a few things. It is on the defendant to establish self-defense. While it is on the defendant to establish this defense based on reasonable fear, the circumstances are looked at from the defendant’s point of view at the time, meaning that the Court can’t rely on later discovered facts to decided that there was really no threat (such as if it is later determined that the defendant was threatened with an unloaded gun). This fear must be based on imminent facts, meaning something that is happening right then. Self-defense will not apply if the defendant assaults someone who had threatened them days or weeks ago.
This is an extremely fact intensive assessment. If you are charged with a criminal offense, and you think you have a claim to self-defense, it is important to have a lawyer who will take the time to learn all of the facts or your case, and be prepared to credibly present those facts to a judge or jury.
Hire a Lawyer to Evaluate and Argue Your Self-Defense Claim in Virginia
Our Client-Focused Criminal Defense Team will take the time to learn about you and the unique facts of your case, and we will work diligently to prepare and argue those facts for you. Contact us to learn how we can help.