While it might be possible for a criminal defendant to claim they acted in self-defense, the issue is far more complicated than many people realize. How and when a person may use force in self-defense varies based on the circumstances.
One important aspect of self-defense is the duty to retreat. Under this duty, you must retreat rather than use force if you know a safe retreat is possible. However, Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground laws do away with the duty to retreat only under specific circumstances. While Stand Your Ground laws allow greater use of force in self-defense, it is not without limitations. Defendants must not have been engaged in any illegal activity or been in a location where they would normally have a duty to retreat. To assert this defense, you must show that the person you used force against was apparently capable of lethal force, among other elements.
Self-defense is a difficult defense to successfully claim in court. Our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers can help determine if Stand Your Ground laws apply to your case. Call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171 for a free case evaluation.
Self-Defense Laws in Pennsylvania
The laws regarding the use of force in self-defense can be found under 18 Pa.C.S. § 505. This particular statute contains details and provisions for various forms of self-defense and explains when self-defense is an appropriate defense to criminal charges. Our Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyers can help you determine if you can use self-defense claims in your case.
Under 18 Pa.C.S. § 505(a), the law explains that using force against another person might be justifiable when you believe that the force is immediately necessary to protect yourself against the unlawful force from another. For example, it might be justifiable to use force if the other person is attacking you with a weapon, and you believe force is necessary to protect yourself from imminent harm. Typically, you have a duty to retreat if possible, and force must only be a last resort.
An expansion of the self-defense rule can be found under 18 Pa.C.S. § 505(2.1), known as the Castle Doctrine. Many states have variations of the Castle Doctrine, and Pennsylvania’s version of the law states that a person may use force in self-defense and, if they are in their own home or vehicle, do not have a duty to retreat. Essentially, if someone attacks you in your home or tries to break into your vehicle to harm you, you do not have to try to retreat or escape before resorting to the use of force.
Stand Your Ground
Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground law is listed under 18 Pa.C.S. § 505(2.3). Under this law, your ability to use force in self-defense is expanded even further if certain conditions are present. You do not have a duty to retreat, even if you are attacked outside your home, as long as you are not involved in any criminal activity and are not in illegal possession of a firearm. You must have a right to be in the location of the incident or attack and believe that force is necessary to protect yourself from imminent harm. Additionally, the person you use force against must be threatening you with a firearm or other weapon.
Using Stand Your Ground Laws for Self-Defense Claims in Pennsylvania
To use the Stand Your Ground laws as a defense in a criminal case, you must establish that all necessary elements and criteria are fulfilled. Our Pennsylvania criminal defense attorneys can review your case and determine if you have a defense under the Stand Your Ground laws.
You must establish several crucial details under the Stand Your Ground self-defense laws. First, you must show that you were not engaged in criminal activity. For example, if a defendant broke into someone else’s home and was confronted by the homeowner with a gun, they cannot claim the Stand Your Ground law to justify their use of force against the homeowner.
Second, you must prove that you were in a location where you would normally have a duty to retreat. This is an important element to consider because it is what separates Stand Your Ground laws from the Castle Doctrine. If you were in your home or vehicle at the time of the incident, you might be better off claiming a defense under the Castle Doctrine. Stand Your Ground laws tend to apply more in cases where people are attacked on the street or in other public spaces. You must also prove that you had a right to be in this location and were not there unlawfully.
Third, you need to show the court that you believed using force to protect yourself from imminent harm was necessary. Courts typically look for situations involving death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, or sexual assault.
Finally, you must prove that the person against whom you used force or deadly force had a firearm or other dangerous weapon and was apparently readily capable of lethal use. Mere threats or even the use of punching or kicking is not enough to warrant the use of force under the Stand Your Ground laws.
Limitations on Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground Laws
Self-defense claims under Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground law are complex and do not always work for defendants. Various caveats and limitations within the law make applying this kind of defense challenging. Our Pennsylvania criminal defense attorneys can help you assert a defense under the Stand Your Ground laws and challenge the criminal charges in your case.
Under this law, you cannot claim self-defense if you were engaged in criminal activity, unlawfully present, or carrying an illegal firearm. You could not claim self-defense under this law if you were committing a crime. Similarly, if you were trespassing or were otherwise not authorized to be at the location of the incident, you cannot claim the Stand Your Ground laws as a defense. You also cannot claim this defense if the weapon you used to defend yourself was illegally obtained or possessed.
Another important limitation revolves around the alleged victim in your case. To claim this defense, the other person must not only be threatening you with force but also have a dangerous weapon or firearm. They must also be readily capable of using the weapon or firearm with deadly force. Threats, physical intimidation, or force with non-deadly weapons are unlikely to warrant justified force under the Stand Your Ground laws.
Call Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorneys for a Free Case Evaluation
If you are facing criminal charges related to a violent crime but believe your actions constitute justifiable force under Pennsylvania’s Stand your Ground laws, our Pennsylvania criminal defense attorneys can help you. For a free case review, call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171.