Detailing the duty to retreat

January 15, 2021
Detailing the duty to retreat

While most people in Missouri might never see themselves facing criminal charges, many also realize that there are situations where circumstances may compel them to act. The assumption is that in those scenarios, the law permits them to act in self-defense. Yet few people know the extent to which they can act in this regard.

The basis of most self-defense laws (Missouri’s included, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures) centers on one’s duty to retreat. The expectation is that one must retreat from any situation where the potential for a violent confrontation exists. That is not the case, yet certain factors must exist to justify defensive action.

“Stand Your Ground” vs. “the Castle Doctrine”

Two legal principles dictate the scenarios where self-defense laws come into play: “Stand Your Ground” and “the Castle Doctrine.” Both absolve one of their duty to retreat, yet “the Castle Doctrine” states that the fear that justifies defensive action is only assumed when a person attempts to unlawfully enter (or remove someone from) one’s home or type of dwelling. The “Stand Your Ground” philosophy extends the right to act in self-defense to virtually any situation where one feels threatened.

Missouri’s self-defense law

Missouri’s self-defense statute indicates that the state subscribes to the former philosophy. Indeed, Section 563.031 of Missouri’s Revised Statutes states that a person is not obligated to retreat from a scenario in which one is trying to forcefully enter into any of the following locations:

  • One’s residence
  • One’s vehicle
  • Any property one either owns or leases
  • Any location where one is legally entitled to be

There are (of course) exceptions to the application of this privilege. One cannot act against an appointed peace officer attempting to execute their duties. One is also not justified in claiming to have acted in self-defense while they themselves were in the process of committing a crime.


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