Self-Defense in Virginia: Meade v. Commonwealth
Feb. 14, 2023
In Virginia, a person who is not the aggressor may use force against another if they reasonably believe it is necessary to fend off their imminent use of force. Simply feeling scared isn’t enough - there has to be an overt act that puts the person in danger.
While Virginia has a few statutes specifically addressing self-defense, most of its self-defense laws come from case law. Additionally, Virginia does not require a duty to retreat when using force against an aggressor.
Meade v. Commonwealth
When Meade's car overheated, he and his fiancée, Kaitlyn Higdon, stopped at a Days Inn. Meade saw several people, including David Hunter Wills, circulating nearby while he was working on the car. He noticed that Wills had a handgun around his waist. Meade retrieved a firearm from his car and placed it in his waistband.
Wills approached Meade's car and placed his gun on the top; he then confronted Meade and accused him of stealing. Even though Wills had a gun, he began to punch Meade. After Meade escaped Wills, Wills and his companions pursued him toward the motel. In the parking lot, they overtook Meade, knocked him to the ground, and repeatedly kicked and hit him.
When Meade and Wills were fighting, they were both holding guns. After a gunshot, the group scattered, and Wills ran toward the motel. As Meade stood behind his car, Wills ran toward his motel room. Meade fired his gun at him.
After Wills entered the motel room, Meade fired again. He testified he fired the two shots to "get him away from me," not to harm, injure, or kill Wills.
Lessons to Apply in Future Cases
At trial, Meade argued that he was defending himself when he shot at the motel room. Here are the important principles of self defense that applied in Meade’s case and any other self defense case in Virginia:
● To prove self-defense, the accused must present sufficient evidence to raise reasonable doubts about his guilt. Hughes v. Commonwealth, 39 Va. App. 448, 464 (2002) (quoting Smith v. Commonwealth, 17 Va. App. 68, 71 (1993).
● Individuals are entitled to use potentially lethal force only when they reasonably believe that death or serious bodily harm is imminent—McGhee v. Commonwealth, 219 Va. 560, 562 (1978). The defendant's perspective at the time of the incident determines whether the danger is reasonably apparent—Hines v. Commonwealth, 292 Va. 674, 679 (2016).
As a matter of law, the Supreme Court rejected Meade’s self defense claim. According to the Supreme Court, the evidence established that the victim was the initial aggressor.
But the victim eventually reached a position where he no longer posed an immediate threat of imminent harm throughout the encounter. Because Meade was not reasonably afraid of death or great bodily harm when he ultimately killed the victim, he forfeited his right to a self-defense claim.
Speak With an Experienced Attorney
Facing serious criminal charges can be frightening, and a criminal conviction could possibly jeopardize your freedom and future. However, knowing your rights can make it easier to manage your case.
At Bryan J. Jones, LLC, we have the diligence and expertise to protect individuals from the worst possible situation. Contact us at Bryan J. Jones, LLC, today to arrange a case evaluation with a seasoned criminal defense lawyer. Bryan Jones can help you navigate Virginia courts and represent you intelligently in your case. We're proud to serve clients across Charlottesville, Waynesboro, Fluvanna County, Orange County, and Albemarle County, Virginia.