Your legal rights during a home invasion

By Laura Geller - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - While we wait for an update on the Petersburg case in which neighbors say a man fired multiple shots at intruders; we are wondering legally, what are you allowed to do to protect yourself during a home break-in?

It's something you might not think about on a routine basis-what would you do if you heard someone trying to break into your house?

"Your first, your automatic, your instinctive fear, is fear of self or fear of your loved ones," said NBC 12 Legal Expert Steve Benjamin.

That's why Virginia Statute clearly states, if you have a reasonable belief that the person breaking into your home intends to hurt you, you can use deadly force to protect yourself or any others you believe are in danger.

The law doesn't apply to property. So if you're only afraid someone is going to steal your big screen TV or entertainment system, you can't use deadly force.

It does not matter if the intruders are armed or unarmed, but your fear has to be reasonable. For example, the law wouldn't allow you to shoot say, a child you see pushing at your door. And, the statute is not a blanket justification.

"There does come a point where somebody is clearly retreating, where the danger has clearly passed.  In that situation you cannot fire out of anger. You cannot fire to stop a problem that has been ongoing," said Benjamin.

When it comes down to it, your best defense is a good lock and alarm system because he says, "…at the end of the day, however justified it may have been, it's still taking another life and that is never without consequences."

The facts of every case are different and it's not guaranteed you won't be prosecuted for using deadly force. That's up to the police and the commonwealth's attorney to decide.

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