Pennsylvania, like New Jersey, maintains strong self defense laws which protect individuals who must use deadly force to protect themselves and others from death or serious bodily injury. In Pennsylvania, self defense is commonly called use of force for self-protection. Watch my self defense video.
What can you use deadly force in Pennsylvania and when can’t you use it?
According to Section 505a, use of force upon or toward another person is justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force.
Use of deadly force is not justifiable unless the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary to protect himself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat. Deadly force is also not justifiable if the actor, with the intent of causing death or serious bodily injury, provoked the use of force against himself in the same encounter.
Finally, the use of force is not justifiable where the actor knows he can avoid the necessity of using such force with complete safety by retreating. An actor, however, is never obligated to retreat from his home or place of business unless he was the initial aggressor or is assailed in his place of work by another person whose place of work is also at that location.
The presumption that deadly force is permissible or allowed.
There is a presumption in Pennsylvania that deadly force is justified and that it is immediately necessary if the person against whom force is used is in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering or has unlawfully and forcefully entered or is present within the dwelling, residence, or other occupied vehicle. There is also this presumption if, the person against whom force is used is attempting to remove a person from their dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle.
The duty to retreat and the use of force.
It is important to keep in mind that there is no duty to retreat from a person’s home or place of business. Recently, in Philadelphia, a gun store owner shot and killed an individual who entered his gun shop with a handgun. While the mayor and police commissioner have commented that this can be considered an unlawful act, it is unlikely that the store owner will be charged with any criminal offense in Pennsylvania. He had no duty to retreat and there is evidence to suggest that the alleged perpetrator entered the gun store with a handgun which was later recovered by the police. There is also no evidence that the individual who was killed was attempting to leave the premises or that the store owner had in any way instigated the incident. It occurred early in the morning during the Philadelphia riots following the death of George Floyd.
Homicide – Murder and Manslaughter
I have written articles on types of homicide in Pennsylvania and the difference between murder and manslaughter. First degree murder is the intentional and pre-meditated killing of another while 3rd degree murder is all other murder with the exception to felony murder (murder of the 2nd degree). Manslaughter is often referred to as imperfect self defense and occurs when the accused individual kills another based on the belief that deadly force was necessary or justifiable. A person who is found guilty of manslaughter failed to persuade a judge or jury that he or she was justified in the killing.
It is very important to understand that once the defense of self-defense is asserted in any criminal case, the burden falls on the prosecution to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant was not acting in self-defense. This is a very powerful defense and critical if you are charged with any violent crime such as murder, manslaughter, aggravated or simple assault.
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