Our law firm defends individuals accused of crimes and offenses involving guns and firearms in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. While the Commonwealth and the Garden State maintain laws against the illegal possession of firearms and guns, there are situations where legal gun owners are charged with criminal offenses following an incident involving the weapon. These criminal charges include aggravated assault attempted murder, and even murder.
The Self Defense Argument
It’s important to understand that in many of these cases individuals have a self-defense argument but that argument falls on the defense to introduce. Once defense counsel introduces the concept of self-defense into a trial, the burden is on the prosecution to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused individual was not acting in self-defense.
How Self Defense Changed in 2011 in Pennsylvania
The strongest self-defense argument is always when an individual acts to protect himself, his family, or his property inside of his home. This is known as the castle doctrine. In this situation a person who acts with deadly force is under no obligation to retreat. In 2011 however, Pennsylvania expanded the castle doctrine to include places outside of the person’s home. The expanded castle doctrine also eliminated the burden on the accused to demonstrate that they “reasonably believed that the use of force was necessary”.
Specifically, the expanded law stated that deadly force is immediately necessary to protect against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, or sexual intercourse compelled by a force or threat if both of the following conditions exist:
- The person against who the force is used is in the process of unlawfully or forcefully entering or has unlawfully and forcefully entered and is present within a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; or the person whom the force is used is or attempting to forcefully and unlawfully remove another against the others will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle.
- The actor knows or has reason to believe that unlawful or forceful entry is occurring or has occurred.
What is a dwelling and what is also covered under the expanded law?
The law defines a residence as a dwelling in which a person resides either temporarily or permanently or visits as an invited guest. The definition of dwelling also includes attached porches, decks, and patios.
The expanded castle doctrine also included a “stand your ground” provision which states the following: “an actor who is not engaged in a criminal activity, who is not in illegal possession of a firearm and is attacked in any place where the actor would have a duty to retreat under paragraph (2)(ii) has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground and use force, including deadly force, if:
- The actor has a right to be in the place where he was attacked,
- The actor believes it is immediately necessary to protect himself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, or sexual intercourse by force or threat,
- The person against whom the force is used displays or otherwise uses a firearm or any other weapon readily or apparently capable of lethal use.
In addition to criminal implications, the expanded doctrine also makes the actor who uses force immune from civil liability for personal injury sustained by a perpetrator which was caused by the acts of the actor as a result of the use of force. In addition, the perpetrator or person bringing the action on behalf of the perpetrator (his estate) is responsible for any reasonable expenses incurred by the victim as result of a civil action.
In summary, the 2011 amendment established a presumption that a person who uses deadly force in his home or vehicle acts reasonably where the criminal unlawfully or forcefully enters the dwelling or vehicle. It expands the doctrine to include a stand your ground provision which applies to places outside of a home or vehicle. For more information, contact our law firm