Late in February a 16 year-old teenager, Robert Lee Fox, was fatally wounded in a shooting in Richmond, VA. According to some sources, the teenager may have been breaking into cars in the neighborhood in which he was shot when a car owner had a confrontation with the teenager before shooting him. Police say they know who pulled the trigger, but have not arrested anyone. Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Herring who is prosecuting the case said, “The facts themselves are complicated because they involve the use of force either in defense of property or in reasonable apprehension of harm to oneself.” As NBC12 analyst said, “The triggerman’s actions would be justified only if that person felt their life was in danger. If Fox was killed because he was breaking into a car, the gunman could be charged with murder.”
The common law in this state has long recognized the right of a landowner to order a trespasser to leave, and if the trespasser refuses to go, to employ proper force to expel him, provided no breach of the peace is committed in the outset…Absent extreme circumstances, however, such force may not endanger human life or cause great bodily harm. (Pike v. Commonwealth, 24 Va. App. 373, 375-376, 482 S.E. 2d 839, __ 1997)
The owner of land has no right to assault a mere trespasser with a deadly weapon. [A] deadly weapon may not be brandished solely in defense of personal property. (Commonwealth v. Alexander, 260 Va. 238, 241, 242, 531, S.E. 2d 567 __ 2000)
To sum the Virginia law up, deadly force cannot be used to defend property, only life. Therefore, if Fox was shot because the shooter had “reasonable fear of death or imminent great bodily harm”, and met certain requirements (such as being an innocent party and having no lesser force available to him to stop the threat), then it was justified and hopefully will be ruled as such. However, if he used deadly force in defense of his property, it is going to be (and should be) a completely different story.
This case should serve as a reminder to all law-abiding citizens who carry a firearm for self-defense that we should always know who/what we are defending, because if we are outside the allowance of the law, we will have to face the consequences for it.