Criminal charges involving the unlawful use of deadly force are no laughing matter, especially those involving deadly force. The situation might look bad, but many defendants’ actions are justifiable self-defense.
Many states, including Pennsylvania, have “stand your ground” laws that allow people to use deadly force to protect themselves or others under specific conditions. If you are charged with a violent crime, you might be able to use the stand your ground law as a defense. Typically, you must have been in imminent fear for your life and safety or the lives and safety of others when using deadly force, and the force should be proportional to the situation. Common situations where stand your ground laws are invoked as a defense include break-ins, assaults, and violent robberies. Your attorney can help determine if Pennsylvania’s stand your ground laws apply to your situation.
Our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long can review your potential defenses in a free case review if you call (215) 302-0171.
What Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground Law Means
Pennsylvania’s stand your ground laws are found under 18 Pa.C.S.§ 505. While we often refer to this legal concept as a single law, it is more of a collection of rules and laws regarding how the use of deadly force may be justified and if a defendant has a valid self-defense claim. If you believe you have a self-defense claim under the stand your ground law, talk to your attorney, as the issue may be very complex.
According to the statute, the use of deadly force may be justifiable if the actor believes that deadly force is needed immediately to protect themselves from other, unlawful deadly force by someone else. The statute goes on to explain that the use of deadly force as self-defense is only valid if the actor believes they must defend against serious bodily harm, death, sexual assault, or kidnapping. Scenarios involving minor scuffles or other non-serious force do not count.
Arguably the most widely known element of the stand your ground law is the part that waives the need to retreat if possible. Typically, if a person can retreat and safely escape without using deadly force, they must do so. The stand your ground law provides that it is not necessary to retreat under the following conditions:
- You have a right to be in the place where you are attacked,
- You believe it is immediately necessary to use deadly force to protect yourself, and
- The person you use deadly force against displays or uses a firearm or any other weapon apparently capable of lethal force.
How to Use Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground Law as a Defense
Pennsylvania’s stand your ground laws may only be used as a defense to criminal charges under very specific circumstances. As mentioned earlier, a defendant may only claim self-defense under the stand your ground law if they believed they were under immediate threat of death, serious bodily harm, kidnapping, or sexual assault.
Using the stand your ground law as a self-defense claim means admitting that you committed the act of violence. However, you committed the act because you feared for your safety, and one of the above circumstances applies. For example, you might be charged with a homicide-related offense because you shot someone with a gun. However, you can claim self-defense under the stand your ground law if you shot the other person because you believed they were trying to kill you.
This is an affirmative defense claim, which means that if our Delaware County criminal defense attorneys can present evidence that shows your use of deadly force was justifiable, criminal liability will be negated. The key is that you must have evidence backing up your self-defense claims. We must show that the other person meant to cause you harm and that deadly force was necessary to protect yourself.
Finding evidence that the other person meant to cause you harm and that you were in imminent danger might be difficult. Some possible evidence we might need is a weapon used by the other person. We can also call on witnesses who might have seen the other person attack or use deadly force against you before you defended yourself.
Situations Where Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground Law is Not a Valid Defense
The law spells out numerous limitations on when the stand your ground law does not apply. For example, if the person allegedly attacking you is a police officer acting in the line of duty, you cannot use deadly force against them and claim self-defense, even if the police officer’s actions were unlawful (e.g., you know the police officer is making a false arrest).
The stand your ground law explicitly states that you must be in a location where you have the right to be for the law to take effect. Of course, this covers your own property or your home, but it might also include almost anywhere else you can lawfully be present. It does not include places where you are not permitted. For example, you cannot use deadly force and claim self-defense under the stand your ground law if someone is using force to remove you from their home after asking you to leave.
You also cannot claim self-defense under the stand your ground law if you provoked the use of force against yourself with the intent of causing death or serious injury to the other person. This might seem like a far-fetched scenario, but it is still possible.
How Do I Know if Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground Law Protects Me?
Whether the stand your ground law protects you is often a difficult question to answer. Self-defense claims are usually complex and do not always work the way people believe they do. You might have thought you could legally use deadly force in self-defense, but perhaps you did not realize you were in a place where you had no right to be. This is why it is crucial that you speak to a Montgomery County criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
One of the trickiest parts about using the stand your ground law to defend yourself is the issue of the duty to retreat. Normally, you have to retreat rather than use deadly force if possible, but the stand your ground law waives this duty under very specific circumstances. Talk to an attorney about the incident in detail to determine if the stand your ground law applies to your case.
Call Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers for Help Immediately
Schedule a free case review with our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers by calling The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171.