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What Is The “Duty To Retreat” Component Of New York Law?

Say you find yourself the victim of a home invasion. These intruders intend to cause you and your family bodily harm. Have you ever imagined such an event? What would you do? How would you react? Many people would probably answer: “I’d get out my gun!” But guess what? Self-defense laws in New York and many other states require individuals to attempt to flee before they take potentially lethal action to defend themselves.

These components of self-defense laws are called “duty to retreat.” The controversial law has spurred legislation in the opposite direction in many other states, which impose “stand your ground” laws instead. 

How is duty to retreat defined by law? Legally, the phrase means that a victim must retreat if safe to do so. If a jury finds that a person had the opportunity to safely escape a violent aggressor but used force instead, that person is both criminally and civilly liable for injuries that result. This is especially important when the victim kills someone who intends them harm.

Needless to say, opponents of the law say that a person has the inalienable right to self-defense. Should anyone really have to risk being shot in the back when the safer solution to a lethal threat would be an in-kind reaction?

New legislation would strike the duty to retreat from New York law. Senator George Borrello (R-Chautauqua) when outside of a person’s residence. “This is something I think is incredibly important, right at this moment, because we have seen New York’s public safety degrade so much,” he said.

One of the reasons the senator believes that duty to retreat laws are so inconsistent is because victims have to think fast. “The purpose of this [bill] is to ensure that in that split second you have to make a decision that the state of New York will back up your right to defend yourself,” he added.