For many, it’s a worst case scenario-finding a stranger attempting to break into your home. What should you do? What legally can you do?

“The Castle Doctrine says your home is your castle and you should be able to protect your castle. However, generally, you cannot protect property with the use of deadly force. The exception, of course, is the self defense rule,” says Dr. Tod Burke, a criminal justice expert and former police officer. 

Unlike some states, Virginia has no formal stand your ground law. However, the Castle Doctrine has become a part of Virginia common law-allowing individuals to protect themselves if they believe the person attempting to enter their home will cause great physical harm. 

“If your life or someone else’s life is in imminent danger, you can then use the castle defense,” says Burke. 

So what constitutes an imminent danger? There must be an immediate reason to fear for your physical safety. 

“You have to be pretty darn sure that your life is in danger-there’s bodily harm that’s going to happen, serious bodily harm,” says Burke. “And another thing to remember is just because you can use deadly force, doesn’t mean you should.”

Burke also points to the fact that being the aggressor in a situation changes the conditions of when using lethal force can be excusable.

“If you do happen to be the initial aggressor, you do have to be able to show that you’ve retreated to a point where you really are back against the wall. You have done everything possible to say hold it, I’m trying to make peace here,” says Burke. 

Each case is unique and what may be justifiable in one case, will not necessarily be justifiable in another. So it’s important not to jump the gun. Instead choosing to use deadly force only when you believe there’s no other option.