To what extent is deadly force justified?

| Aug 17, 2020 | Felonies

It may be easy to react with skepticism to claims that a person accused of committing a violent crime (such as homicide) in Upper Marlboro was only acting in self-defense. Yet when you are that person, your hope is that others will understand your position and believe you. 

Yet despite the perceptions of others, what really matters in such a situation whether the law justifies your actions. While many may dismiss self-defense claims, most everyone (including lawmakers) can empathize with being in a position were you feel threatened. To what extent are you allowed to react to such threats? 

The legal justification for self-defense

Many states have laws that set forth the conditions under which you can react in self-defense; Maryland, however, does not. Yet it does generally adhere to some common law principles related to self-defense. The first is “the Castle Doctrine” which reaffirms that your home is your castle, and as such you are not obligated to retreat from any situation where you feel reasonably threatened while within it. That exemption to the duty to retreat may also extend to certain special situations outside of your home. 

How does the state define “reasonably threatened?”

In the absence of a documented local statute, Maryland state court rulings set the criteria for feeling reasonably threatened by another. These include: 

  • Circumstances warranting a reasonable belief that you are at risk of suffering death or serious injury at the hands of another 
  • You actually having this belief 
  • You reacting to an altercation in which you were not the aggressor 
  • The force expended in reaction being equal to the threat that you felt 

Regarding the final qualification, local courts view even the use of deadly force as justified if you can show that such force would have likely been the result had another enacted it upon you.