Reviewing Pennsylvania’s self-defense law

On Behalf of | Jul 16, 2020 | Criminal Defense

Allegations of assault are often answered with claims that the accused was simply trying to defend themselves. It may be easy for most people in Media to view such claims with skepticism. However, many also realize that there may be scenarios where a person feels compelled to react to a potential threat.

This prompts the question of to what extent does Pennsylvania law allow one to act in self-defense. Understanding the answer requires a deeper review of two unique legal philosophies: “Stand Your Ground” laws and “the Castle Doctrine.”

Defining the justifiable use of deadly force

“Stand Your Ground” laws mean what the name implies: one does not have to retreat from a situation where they feel threatened. “The Castle Doctrine” affords the same privilege, but limits it to one’s home or vehicle. Pennsylvania’s self-defense law is somewhat unique in that both principles apply. Per Section 505 of Pennsylvania’s Consolidated Statutes, one can use force (even deadly force) to defend themselves if a reasonable fear of suffering death or serious injury exists. The law presumes such a fear exists if another tries to unlawfully enter one’s home or vehicle (or to forcefully remove them from either location).

Applying “Stand Your Ground” to Pennsylvania law

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the same presumption does not exist when one is in a threatening situation outside their home or car. The law states that they may stand their ground if threatened, but can only defend themselves with deadly force if the following is true:

  • They have the right to be where they are
  • They believe they are in danger of death, serious injury, kidnapping or sexual assault
  • Their attacker presents a firearm or other type of deadly weapon

None of the protections afforded by Pennsylvania law apply if one acts against a peace officer trying to lawfully execute the duties of their office.