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Family abuse is the term under Virginia law for domestic violence. In this type of case, one family member (or household member) is accused of violence against another member of the household. Situations involving family violence are often made complex by family dynamics and living situations and the stresses they sometimes create. Furthermore, these cases often involve conflicting versions of the same story, the original “he said, she said” situation. Based on all of this, then, is it possible to claim self-defense in a case like this?

Virginia’s Family Abuse Law

Virginia has a broad statute that covers domestic violence. It defines family abuse as an act involving violence, force, or threat that results in bodily injury or places one in reasonable apprehension of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury by a family or household member. It includes, but is not limited to, any forceful detention, stalking, criminal sexual assault, or any criminal offense that results in bodily injury or places one in reasonable apprehension of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury.

Self-Defense Defined

Self-defense is a common law defense in Virginia. This means that it has been developed from the evolution of case law throughout history, even from historical English law. Self-defense originates from the idea that one should be able to answer violence or the threat of violence with violence if it is necessary to protect one’s self from harm. It has evolved in Virginia through the course of history.

In Virginia, self-defense must pass the test of proportionality. Simply put, this means that the force that you used to defend yourself must be in proportion to the force you were defending against. You cannot successfully claim self-defense if, in response to being punched in arm, you pulled out a gun and shoot someone. The force that you used must be reasonable in relation to the threat or violence that you suffered. In Virginia, you have a duty to seek out the least forceful option readily available.

Finally, you must prove that you were acting upon a reasonable fear for you safety. It is not enough to state that you were in fear for your life, but rather you must be able to articulate that, for example, your attacker had a knife in his hand and had you backed into a corner while he screamed that he was going to kill you. An overt action is required that a reasonable person could interpret as evidencing intent to cause serious harm.

Self-Defense Applied to Family Abuse

In using self-defense in family abuse cases, several factors need to be taken into account.  First, there is the reasonableness test. If the case involves two 150-pound people of relatively similar capabilities, it is probably reasonable that one threatening the other could create the level of fear and requisite ability to act that would necessitate self-defense. While not impossible, it is much harder to believe that a 110 pound woman could put a 250 pound man in reasonable fear for his life if she only threatened to use her fists, for example. Second, in many occasions, the opportunity to leave the household often presents itself in your average domestic violence case. This type of violence often escalates over time and a person who might ordinarily argue self-defense has in some cases had ample opportunity to leave the situation and therefore cannot claim the defense.

No two family abuse cases are alike. Men are no more presumed guilty than women, at least under the law, and women are no more entitled to use self-defense than men. If you have been accused of family abuse in Northern Virginia and think you may be able to claim self-defense, you definitely need to seek skilled representation. It is not every lawyer who can present the intricacies of self-defense to a jury. If you find yourself in this situation or facing any charge of family abuse, Criminal Defense Attorney Jad Sarsour can help. He has years of experience defending clients in your situation. Give him a call today at (571) 367-7009 to set up your initial consultation. Trust Jad Sarsour to protect your rights.

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