Self-Defense in Virginia


Self-Defense in Virginia

 If you are charged with assault & battery, malicious wounding, or other violent crime, it is important that your lawyer assess whether you have a self-defense claim. In Virginia state court, once a claim of self-defense is raised, certain evidence is admissible. For example, the defense may introduce: 1) evidence of the victim's reputation in the community for turbulence, violence, aggressiveness, and for carrying a weapon, Jones v. Commonwealth, 217 Va. 226, 228 S.E.2d 124 (1976); and 2) evidence of specific acts of violence committed by victim in the past. See Randolph v. Commonwealth, 190 Va. 256, 56 S.E.2d 509 (1949). Evidence of specific acts of past violence is admissible to show the victim's character for turbulence and violence even if the defendant is unaware of such character. See Barnes v. Commonwealth, 214 Va. 24, 197 S.E.2d 189 (1973) (citing Randolph, 190 Va. 256; Stover v. Commonwealth, 211 Va. 789, 180 S.E.2d 504 (1971).

Evidence of “particular deeds of unscrupulous violence…is admissible… when the defendant has interposed a plea of self-defense and when a proper foundation is laid by proof of some overt act justifying such defense.” Burford v. Commonwealth, 179 Va. 752, 767 20 S.E.2d 509 (1942). “The nature and quality of the overt act cannot be judged in a vacuum. Rather, the acts must be viewed through the eyes of the person allegedly threatened.” Craig v. Commonwealth, 14 Va. App. 842, 419 S.E.2d 429 (1992).

In Craig, Defendant was on trial for shooting another, Walton, after an argument. Craig v. Commonwealth, 14 Va. App. at 843. After pleading self-defense, the defendant sought to introduce evidence of previous acts of violence Walton had committed against a third party. The trial court excluded this evidence holding that it was inadmissible to show the defendant's apprehension of Walton and his belief that Walton posed an immediate threat to him. Id. at 844. The Virginia Court of Appeals overturned the trial court because once a defendant has shown an overt act justifying self-defense, evidence of specific acts of violence is admissible. Id.

If you have been charged with a violent crime, it is important that your lawyer consider whether you have the affirmative defense of self-defense. Contact us today for a free consultation to assess your case and your possible defenses.

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