The 11 Duty-to-Retreat States That Force Innocent Victims Facing Imminent Death to Flee for Their Lives

The 11 Duty to Retreat States (as of 10/15/2021):

Arkansas (NOTE: Governor signed “soft” SYG into law March 3, 2021; tentative effective date July 30, 2021.*)
New Jersey
New York
North Dakota (SYG effective 8/1/2021)
Ohio (“hard” SYG” effective April 6, 2021)
Rhode Island
Wyoming (SYG effective July 1, 2018)

* With respect to Arkansas, the effective date of the SYG changes in the passed SB24 bill is the 91st after the end of the 2021 legislative session. The 2021 session is scheduled to end on April 30, 2021, which would make the SYG the law effective July 30, 2021. If there is adjustment to the end date of the session, however, the effective date will adjust accordingly. 

That’s the list. That said, don’t forget my default advice:

Anyone who actually HAS a safe avenue of retreat and doesn’t take advantage of it, rather than go hands on, is an idiot. The moment you go hands on, you’ve immediately incurred a greater than zero risk of death and a greater than zero risk of going to jail for the rest of your life. There ought to be few circumstances that justify taking on such risks if you could simply safely retreat instead.

Also, keep in mind that in most of the 37 “stand-your-ground” states, there is no legal duty to retreat before acting in self-defense, but the prosecutor can still argue to the jury that they can consider whether the defendant could have safely retreated in evaluating whether the defender’s use of force was reasonable. A half-dozen states are “hard” stand-your-ground states in retreat is taken completely off the table and such an argument by the prosecutor is not permitted, but they are in the minority.


You carry a gun so you’re hard to kill.

Know the law so you’re hard to convict.

Stay safe!


Attorney Andrew F. Branca
Law of Self Defense LLC

IMPORTANT:  We encourage civil and reasoned debate among Members in the comments.  That said, comments reflect the legal opinions of those who authored them only, and no comment should be assumed to reflect the legal opinion of, or be assumed to be shared by, Attorney Andrew F. Branca, except those authored by Attorney Branca.  Law of Self Defense LLC does not systemically moderate comments for legal correctness, and we suggest that all comments be viewed with an appropriately critical eye and a grain of salt.

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6 thoughts on “The 11 Duty-to-Retreat States That Force Innocent Victims Facing Imminent Death to Flee for Their Lives”

  1. Andrew,
    Most of those states you listed are populated by insane libs. What is wrong with North Dakota and Arkansas? The people in those two states generally tend to have good sense.

    1. Attorney Andrew Branca

      Arkansas also has a SYG bill going through the legislature. Like OH, they’ve been pushing it the last couple of years, but haven’t yet sealed the deal. Hopefully this time around they’ll get it.

      1. The Arkansas Supreme Court has held that a defendant is entitled to a stand your ground instruction when there is sufficient evidence in the record to support it. In the same case the Court also held that the prosecution was entitled to a duty to retreat instruction when there was sufficient evidence in the record to support the instruction.

        In respect to Arkansas’s proposed stand your ground amendment last year, a veteran prosecutor with 25 years experience said he had never seen a case where the State could prove a defendant could have retreated in complete safety when there was evidence of a use or imminent use of unlawful force. He explained that it was impossible for the victim of a use or imminent use of unlawful force to retreat, or do anything else, in complete safety. Danger and safety cannot coexist

  2. In concept I understand SYG and avoidance. However, I am unable to envision a scenario where SYG would make a difference. Certainly having a gun pointed at you or an impact weapon (within 21′) avoidance is more or less off the table. Does this mainly apply to non-deadly force? Do you have an example that you could point me towards?

    1. Attorney Andrew Branca

      I address this perfectly legitimate issue in more detail in the post going up a bit later today. Separately, most of the minority of stand-your-ground states apply the element of Avoidance only as a condition to the use of deadly defensive force, but one or two do apply it more broadly as a condition to the use of any degree of defensive force whatever.

  3. I live in Maryland and there is some case law that is supposed to help the homeowner here even though it is a must retreat state. Whereas in Hawaii, if you can crawl out a window of your own home to avoid an intruder, you must do so. In Maryland, withdrawing to a room behind a locked door and shouting verbal warnings is usually considered enough of a retreat. It still depends on the mood of the prosecuter about whether to be charged and a host of other factors. Sometimes people don’t have time to retreat here and they don’t get charged. There was a case in MD where someone defended himself with a sword in the garage. He was charged not because he could have retreated but because the garage was not considered as his living space.

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