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Matthew A. Radefeld and Daniel A. Juengel

Must you retreat before using physical force in self-defense?

On Behalf of | Nov 30, 2022 | Violent Crimes |

It’s one of the most emotional and stressful decisions anyone will ever face: whether to use physical force to protect yourself or others from an imminent threat of physical harm.

But in such situations, does Missouri law require someone to try to retreat before using physical force?

Missouri has a stand-your-ground law

The rules related to self-defense are somewhat different in every state. In Missouri, a claim that someone acted in self-defense requires a showing that they feared for their physical safety.

Missouri law does not, however, require someone asserting self-defense to prove that they tried to retreat from the situation as part of their defense. State law allows for the use of physical force, possibly including deadly force, to protect yourself from an immediate threat. The stand-your-ground rules in Missouri protect people in their own homes and other places they have the lawful right to be.

The relevant section of the law on use of force in defense of persons is Revised Statutes of Missouri 563.031. The statutes specifies that force is generally allowed when someone “reasonably believes such force to be necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful force” by another person.

To be sure, the statute contains certain exceptions. For example, if someone was the initial aggressor, force is justified only if that person withdrew from the encounter and communicated that to the party effectively.

Section three of the statute addresses the issue of whether there is a duty to retreat. That section states there is no such duty, if the person is on premises where they have a right to be.

No duty to retreat

In short, Missouri law does not contain a duty to retreat before physical force. But individual cases can be complicated and consulting with a lawyer is advisable to clarify how the law may apply to your facts and circumstances.