Our criminal defense law firm represents individuals charged with violent and non-violent offenses in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In cases involving the allegation of violence against our client a common and critical issue is that of self-defense. New Jersey and Pennsylvania refer to self-defense as “justification” under their crimes code and both jurisdictions separate it further into non-deadly and deadly categories.
When can your criminal defense lawyer make a self defense argument?
Self-defense is complete defense against an allegation of violence provided that a defense lawyer properly asserts it at trial. This defense tool is exclusively reserved for at trial as it directly pertains to the prosecutions ability to meet a burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt which is a criminal standard in all cases. A criminal defense lawyer cannot assert a self-defense argument at a preliminary hearing in Pennsylvania or a motion to quash the indictment in New Jersey. It is strictly a trial issue which a judge or jury must decide based on the evidence presented at trial.
What is deadly force?
Deadly force is force that, under the circumstances in which it is used, is readily capable of causing death or serious bodily injury (i.e., shooting a gun at an attacker or striking them with some object on a vital part of their boy). The law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey defines serious bodily injury as that type of injury which creates a substantial risk of death or causes serious permanent disfigurement or loss or impairment of any bodily member or organ. Its important to remember that force is not deadly simply because it happens to kill or injure someone seriously. There are examples where a punch freakishly causes another’s death and, in these situations, it is difficult, if not impossible, for the prosecution to establish deadly force.
In both states, a person enjoys the highest level of self-defense protection within his home and the prosecution cannot establish that deadly force used within a home was not justified simply because it was not proportional to the level of force used in the attack or entry. In all other cases the right of self-defense is measured against necessity and when it is asserted, a trial judge must instruct the jury on the issue of self-defense and allow them to determine if it is justified. The burden is always on the prosecution in deadly and non-deadly self-defense cases.
Deadly Force & Self Defense
In the case of deadly force, the prosecution must establish that the use of deadly force was not justified through any of the following means:
- the defendant did not reasonably believe that he was in immediate danger of death or serious bodily injury (including kidnapping or rape)
- the defendant himself provoked the use of force against him
- the defendant could avoid the necessity of using self-defense with complete safety by retreating
Non Deadly (Protective Force) & Self Defense
In the case of non-deadly (protective force) the prosecution must establish any of the following:
- The defendant did not reasonably believe that it was immediately necessary for him to use force to protect himself.
- The defendant himself provoked the level of force used against him.
What is the Castle Doctrine? Stand Your Ground Laws
New Jersey and Pennsylvania both maintain the Castle Doctrine with means that a person has a right to defend their home with force against an intruder. New Jersey however, unlike Pennsylvania, does not have a Stand Your Ground law. Stand your ground law is a self-defense statute which means you can use force to protect yourself anywhere you are allowed to be including the public with no duty to retreat.
While Pennsylvania does maintain a stand your ground law it is not absolute, and it only applies in situations outside a home if there is a reasonable expectation of immediate danger. This means that a weapon such as a knife or gun is visible and immediately accessible. In addition, the self-defense must be “immediately necessary”. This means that if an attacker tries to run away, force is no longer justified.
Contact Our Criminal Defense Lawyers in PA & NJ
Please click here to contact our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers. We offer free case reviews and serve the following areas in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Atlantic City, Camden, Cherry Hill, Chester, Conshohocken, Doylestown, Media, Norristown, Philadelphia, Pottstown, Salem, Upper Darby, Upper Merion, Upper Providence, Vineland & Woodbury areas.