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Things to know about Stand Your Ground laws and weapons crimes

After Trayvon Martin was shot in Florida by an armed community watch volunteer, Stand Your Ground laws were thrust into the national media spotlight. It quickly became apparent that the laws put in place to allow citizens to defend themselves were confusing, and that many people had vastly different interpretations of what was and was not legal. Even if the outcome is not as tragic as the Martin case, many in Virginia who use force to protect themselves may be at risk for being charged with weapons crimes or other felonies.

There are three main schools of thought and laws that states adhere to with regard to self protection. First, some states have laws that hold its citizens to a "Duty to Retreat" doctrine, which provides that a person must retreat from an imminent safety threat as much as possible before responding with force. Other states abide by the "Castle Doctrine," which states that a person is able to respond to a threat with force without retreating when challenged in his or her home, workplace or, in some cases, automobile. Finally, other states have adopted "Stand Your Ground" legislation, which allows people, under specific circumstances, to use force in order to defend themselves without attempting to retreat.

Stand Your Ground laws differ from Castle Doctrine laws in that they are not limited to a person's private home, vehicle or work. At this point, Virginia law on this issue is based mostly upon legal precedent rather than legislation. Virginia is a Stand Your Ground state, as long as a citizen is not complicit in escalating the altercation.

Because of Virginia's murky interpretation in this area of law, citizens could potentially face weapons charges and other felonies if they use force in self-defense under certain circumstances. Most in Virginia who find themselves charged with weapons crimes reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney who is well-versed in criminal defense litigation can assist clients in evaluating their cases, ensuring their rights are protected and building the strongest defense possible.

Source: FindLaw, "Stand Your Ground Laws", Accessed on Sept. 29, 2016

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