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Does Maryland impose a duty to retreat on self-defense claims?

On Behalf of | Feb 4, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Someone accused of assault, homicide or another violent offense in Maryland faces serious consequences if they plead guilty or get convicted. Therefore, they may choose to defend against those charges by taking the case to trial. One of the defense strategies people utilize when accused of violent acts is to assert that they acted to defend themselves, their property or possibly a third party. Self-defense claims in Maryland are subject to numerous restrictions.

Someone has to conform with the law to credibly claim that they acted in self-defense. The law requires that someone only use the amount of force necessary given the nature of the perceived threat, for example. There are other restrictions as well. Does an individual who uses physical force to defend themselves or others in Maryland have a duty to retreat before they use physical force?

In some cases, a duty to retreat may apply

A duty to retreat is essentially a legal obligation to try to leave a dangerous situation before escalating it by committing an act of violence in self-defense. In many situations, adults in Maryland are subject to a duty to retreat. Specifically, those in public locations typically need to try to leave a volatile situation if possible before resorting to physical violence in an attempt to protect themselves. However, there is one notable exception to that rule. The castle doctrine protects someone’s right to be secure in their own home and to defend their residents.

In scenarios involving someone who enters a property with the intent of committing a crime, a resident or homeowner could use physical force to defend themselves or their home without attempting to retreat first. Otherwise, prosecutors might raise questions about whether someone truly acted in self-defense because they chose not to leave the situation and instead responded to aggression with aggression.

It is often feasible for someone accused of an act of violence to demonstrate to the courts that they believed physical force was necessary for their safety or the safety of others. However, people have to first establish that the situation falls within the right parameters for self-defense statutes to apply. Discussing the situation that led to someone’s arrest with an attorney could, therefore, help someone evaluate potential defense strategies.