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When is force legally justified under Missouri law?

We all want the right to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our property from attackers and thieves. That's why all states have self-defense laws on the books. However, those laws vary. That's why it's essential for Missourians to understand the self-defense laws of our state.

Physical (non-deadly) force is considered justified when a person reasonably believes it's necessary to defend themselves or someone else from an unlawful use of force by someone else. It may also be used if a person believes it's necessary to prevent someone from committing theft, tampering or property damage.

Deadly force may be justified under the law if a person reasonably believes it's required to protect themselves or someone else from physical injury, death or forcible felony. It may also be used against someone who illegally enters a dwelling or vehicle.

That brings us to what are known as "stand your ground" and "castle doctrine" laws. These laws, which vary by state, detail when a person has a duty to retreat and when they're legally allowed to stay and fight, even if leaving the situation is an option.

Missouri law recognizes the castle doctrine. That means that if someone comes into your home with the intention of harming you or someone else, you have the legal right to stay and use deadly force to prevent an attack. However, in Missouri, people also have no duty to retreat from their vehicles, any property they own or anywhere they're entitled to be.

There's another situation in which a person may be legally within their rights to use force against someone to protect themselves or others. That's if they can provide evidence that they were suffering from a psychological condition known as battered spouse syndrome. Long-term domestic violence victims sometimes develop battered spouse syndrome — also known as battered woman syndrome (BWS). They believe that they're unable to leave their abuser. Sometimes they lash out physically because they think they have no other choice. In reality, they often don't.

All the facts behind an act of violence may not be initially apparent. Sometimes, people who act in self-defense are arrested and charged with serious crimes. That's why it's essential to rely on an experienced Missouri criminal defense attorney to present your case and prove that your actions were justified under the law.

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