All crimes are taken seriously by police and prosecutors in Pennsylvania, but perhaps none is treated quite as seriously as the taking of a human life. Of course, there are certain situations where a person is forced to take another life, and that killing is considered justified under the law. One of those is when you are forced to kill another person as a form of self-defense. Unfortunately, this is a situation in which a large number of people in Pennsylvania and across the country find themselves each year. Many wonder if, even if they are found to have killed in self-defense, they could be charged with a lesser form of homicide such as manslaughter. Below, our skilled Philadelphia homicide defense lawyer at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long explain the definition of self-defense in Pennsylvania, how a self-defense case typically works, and whether you could end up charged with a lesser crime even if you are found to have acted in defense of yourself in killing someone.
When Is a Killing in Self-Defense Justified in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, a right to self-defense exists when you are attacked by another individual. For example, if someone tackles you to the ground, you are legally allowed to use the amount of force necessary to get them off you. However, this right is not absolute; you cannot use more force than necessary to get yourself out of the situation.
The same applies to a killing claimed to be made in self-defense. In order for it to be a legal use of force, the individual must have had an objectively reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary to protect themselves. You cannot use force in excess of the attacker, like responding to being tackled by shooting someone in the head. If they start shooting at you, and you shoot back to save yourself, however, that is likely a legal use of deadly force to defend yourself. The threat made also must be imminent, meaning that you cannot shoot someone right now for calling and telling you they are going to shoot you in 5 days, because that gives you enough time to call the police and find a non-violent solution.
Can You Be Convicted of Manslaughter in Pennsylvania if You Kill in Self-Defense?
If you kill some in self-defense and the defense is found by a court or jury to be objectively reasonable in light of the force used by the aggressor, you cannot be convicted for any crime, including the lesser murder charge known as manslaughter. However, if a judge or jury finds you killed someone in a way that was “objectively unreasonable,” then you can be convicted of voluntary manslaughter. In most cases of self-defense killing where the self-defense was in response to force but not force that is deemed to have required a deadly response, the charge will be voluntary manslaughter, either as originally filed or as eventually downgraded by the prosecutor.
Despite it being a less serious charge than homicide, voluntary manslaughter is still a first-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years of jail, and if you are facing this charge you should reach out to a skilled Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer like those at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long as soon as possible.
How Does a Self-Defense Case in Pennsylvania Typically Work?
If you find yourself having had to kill someone in self-defense, your first call should be to the police to self-report what happened, and your next call should be to a skilled Pennsylvania homicide defense attorney like those at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long. The police will make a determination about whether or not to place you under arrest. Usually, they will conduct at least some sort of investigation first, but they may place you on a temporary hold at the station, which cannot last more than 48 hours. Often, they will not do this if you agree to voluntarily cooperate, but you should not offer any sort of interview or answer their questions until your Philadelphia or Delaware County criminal defense lawyer is by your side to advise you on what you should and should not say to protect yourself.
After interviewing you and other witnesses, gathering physical and video evidence, and other investigative tactics, the police, often in consult with the prosecutor’s office, will make a decision about whether or not to accept the self-defense explanation or to charge you with a killing crime like murder or voluntary manslaughter. Sometimes, the investigation may take weeks or months before a charging decision is made. If you are charged, our first order of business considering the severity of the offense will be getting you out of custody on reasonable bail. In Pennsylvania, the bail hearing is held within 48 hours of your arrest, which is another reason need to get in touch with a skilled Philadelphia bail hearing attorney like those at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long as soon after your arrest as possible.
Our Philadelphia defense attorneys for self-defense charges will then work to gather all of the evidence, file any necessary motions like a motion to suppress, and begin negotiating with the prosecutor on a deal to get the charges to be downgraded or dismissed. We can use the threat of a self-defense case, including well-presented evidence regarding why your actions are likely to be considered objectively reasonable by the jury, to get the charges dismissed, downgraded to a lesser charge, or to work out some other sort of deal. If you do not wish to take a deal, we can make a strong self-defense argument to the jury at trial and will leave no stone unturned working to achieve a verdict of not guilty.
If You Have Been Charged with Murder or Manslaughter After a Self-Defense Killing, Call Our Philadelphia Homicide Defense Attorneys Today
While self-defense can be a legal excuse for killing someone, it will need to have been in response to what would have been seen as a deadly, imminent threat by an objectively reasonable person. As such, whether you are ultimately charged or not, you will need a skilled Philadelphia manslaughter defense attorney and Philadelphia vehicular homicide defense attorney like those at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long to protect your interests and make sure you do not say the wrong thing to the police. For a free consultation, reach out to our office today at (215) 302-0171.