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Do you have a duty to retreat before defending yourself?

On Behalf of | Oct 25, 2022 | Violent crimes

Maryland state law criminalizes acts of violence against other people. It is illegal to intentionally harm someone, whether you punch them in the face during an altercation or you hit them with your car on purpose. The state can prosecute someone for a violent offense ranging from assault to homicide when they become aggressive toward another person.

One of the more common defense strategies utilized by those facing violent criminal charges is to claim that they acted in self-defense. In Maryland, as in other states, criminal defendants can assert that their violent or aggressive behavior was not a crime because they acted to defend themselves, their property or other people.

However, you typically need to show you didn’t instigate the situation to raise a self-defense claim. Do you have a duty to retreat before using physical force when you fear for your safety?

Yes, Maryland generally expects you to retreat first

Maryland has not enacted specific statutes about the duty to retreat or the right to stand your ground, so the current common law rules apply. It is expected that individuals facing some kind of threat outside of their homes or in a public location will attempt to leave the situation before resorting to violence.

If someone threatens you on the street, you could cross the road, turn around, enter a nearby business or otherwise try to flee the assailant instead of becoming violent toward them. The duty to retreat is particularly important in cases involving the use of lethal force.

Still, there are situations in which retreat is simply not possible or when an attacker pursues you and forces you to defend yourself physically. Additionally, you typically do not have a duty to retreat once someone has forced entry into your home. The circumstances in which you felt threatened will determine whether or not a duty to retreat applied and therefore whether or not you can raise a self-defense claim in criminal court.

There are many other options besides an affirmative defense

Just because you cannot claim self-defense as a means to avoid conviction does not mean that pleading guilty is the only option left to you. Defendants in Maryland accused of violent crimes have many viable defense strategies.

You will typically need to learn a bit more about state law and determine what evidence the state has against you if you hope to defend against allegations of a violent crime in Maryland. Evaluating different defense strategies can help those accused of assault and other violent offenses.