Most, if not all, jurisdictions allow people to use force to defend themselves when they feel a physical threat. But the specific circumstances in which self-defense is permitted depend on the self-defense laws of each state. The primary distinguishing factor among self-defense laws is whether or not they impose a duty to retreat before using force. States that remove this requirement have "stand your ground laws." Other states follow the "castle doctrine," where there's a duty to retreat unless you're defending yourself in your home, place of business, or sometimes even your car.
Understanding Self-Defense Laws in D.C.
According to the jury instructions used in D.C. courts, a person can use force to defend themselves when they actually and reasonably believe that they're in danger of serious bodily harm or death. However, a person is required to take reasonable steps - such as stepping back or walking away - that are consistent with the person's own safety to try to avoid the necessity of taking someone's life. A jury deciding whether a defendant acted reasonably must consider whether the defendant took those steps.
Washington D.C. Self-Defense Laws: An Overview
Statutes are a good place to learn about laws, but statutory language can often be difficult to decipher. For this reason, it's often helpful to read an overview of the statute to break down what a law actually says. In the following chart, you can find an overview of the laws that address self-defense in D.C. as well as links to relevant statutes.
District of Columbia Code, Division I. Title 7:
District of Columbia Code, Division IV. Title 22:
|Statutory Allowances for Self-Defense
Section 7-2502.13 allows a person to possess and use self-defense spray in defense of themselves or their property.
Section 7-2502.15 allows people 18 and over* to possess a stun gun, which can only be used in defense of person or property. Please see the statute for restrictions on places that stun guns aren't permitted.
Section 22-40503.01 specifically allows a person to discharge a firearm when it's done in legitimate self-defense.
*Note: Brief possession of a stun gun by someone under 18 for self-defense when there's an immediate threat of harm, isn't a violation of Section 7-2502.15.
District of Columbia Code Division IV. Title 22:
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
District of Columbia Self-Defense Laws: Related Resources
For additional information and resources related to this topic, please visit the links listed below.
Questions About District of Columbia Self-Defense Laws? Talk to an Attorney
Although being charged with assault, manslaughter, or murder is a serious matter, there are certain circumstances that can justify the use of force - even if deadly - against the victim. The circumstances of the use of force are very important in determining whether or not you're allowed to use force in self-defense. If you're facing criminal charges, it's in your best interest to get in touch with a local criminal defense attorney to discuss your specific situation and learn about how D.C. self-defense laws apply to your case.