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How Can You be Found Not Guilty by Self Defense in Pennsylvania?

Did you know that if you’ve been charged with a crime, you can be found NOT GUILTY by using the defense of self-defense? In Pennsylvania, self-defense acts as an affirmative defense; this means, that you had the right to defend yourself under the law and, so, you cannot be held criminally responsible for your actions.  If you were arrested for acting in self-defense, call our Pennsylvania criminal defense offices today for a free consultation with a criminal defense attorney at Young, Marr & Associates.

An Overview of Self-Defense Laws in Pennsylvania

Here’s what the law says on self-defense: the use of force is justifiable if you believe that such force is “immediately necessary” for the purpose of protecting yourself. The highlighted portion here refers to how you perceived the circumstances and whether your perception of the circumstances was “reasonable.” In other words, the law will look to whether your actions were reasonable in light of the circumstances; if so, then your actions were “justifiable” under the law and you are entitled to the affirmative defense of “self-defense.”

Exceptions to the Self-Defense Statute

Just like with everything else in law, though, there are a number of exceptions to the self-defense statute.

Claiming Self-Defense Against a Police Officer: Firstly, the self-defense statute will not work in situations dealing with police; that is, you may not claim self-defense if you are using force against a police officer attempting to make an arrest, lawful or otherwise.

Claiming Self-Defense on Someone Else’s Property: Secondly, you cannot use self-defense against someone who is trying to protect his or her own property. In looking at this second exception, we’re talking about a situation where someone is trying to prevent you from entering their property and in doing so, that person tries to assault you. You cannot now claim self-defense against that person; the person in this example was trying to protect their property, and in this type of situation, self-defense won’t fly!

Claiming Self-Defense as the Provoker or Initial Aggressor: Another big exception (and perhaps one that shall stand on its own) with regard to claiming self-defense is what we call provocation or initial aggressor. This means that you cannot claim self-defense if you were the one that provoked the fight. In other words, you can’t be the initial aggressor. Whether or not you can be viewed as a having provoked the fight, the definition of a “provoke” has not been clearly defined by the Courts in Pennsylvania. Courts, however, have said that the mere use of insulting words which led to a fight does not rise to the level of “provoke.” This means that even if you started the altercation by using profane or foul language, you still may be able to claim self-defense of your actions. The issue of whether or not you provoked the circumstances is decided on a case-by-case basis and is viewed upon the totality of circumstances. In general, though, if you were the initial aggressor, you cannot claim self-defense.

Use of Deadly Force as Self-Defense

Here, we’re looking at a situation where you used deadly force—meaning you killed someone—and you are claiming that you acted in self-defense. The question then becomes: can you use deadly force and still claim self-defense? It depends.

There are two rules with the use of deadly force. First, you must believe that the use of deadly force was immediately necessary to protect yourself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse. In other words, you must believe that you are in a life or death situation and the threat is imminent. For example, let’s say you’re in a situation where someone takes out a gun or a knife. In this instance, it is clear that you’re now faced with a situation involving life or death. Second, you must not have provoked the use of force in the same encounter. This means that you cannot have started the fight. Let’s take the previous example where you see someone take out a gun or knife. The use of deadly force will not work if you started the fight. And so, the fact that the other person pulled out a gun or knife does not entitle you to use deadly force; after all, you started it!

Presumption: with regard to the first rule, you are presumed to believe that the use of force is immediately necessary if you are preventing someone from breaking and entering into your home or vehicle. For example, let’s say that someone is banging on your front door and you see the door start to buckle. In this instance, you are presumed to believe that the use of deadly force is immediately necessary to protect yourself. The rationale for allowing this presumption is that people should feel secure in their property. If you see someone trying to break in, it is reasonable to assume that it is a life or death situation and that the threat is imminent. This presumption is limited, however. You will not be presumed to believe that the use of force is immediately necessary if the person you are using the deadly force on has a right to be in or on your property. For example, let’s say that you are a building owner and you rent units out to tenants. In this situation, a tenant has a lawful right to be on your property and, so, you will not be presumed to believe that the use of deadly force is immediately necessary.

Use of Deadly Force & Duty to Retreat

A hotly contested area of the law, the “duty to retreat” imposes a duty upon the actor to retreat from certain situations. This is commonly referred to as the “duty to retreat.” The duty to retreat means that you cannot use deadly force against another person if you know that you can avoid the situation altogether by safely retreating.

There are exceptions to this rule, though. You do NOT have a duty to retreat from the situation if you are in your own home or place of work and you were not the initial aggressor. This concept is known as the “castle doctrine,” or “stand your ground” law. The idea here is that you have the right to protect yourself while in your home or place of work. But again, you must not have been the initial aggressor.

Bucks County, PA Criminal Defense Attorneys Offering Free Consultations

The self-defense statute in Pennsylvania is a very long, complex statute. It is crucial that you have a knowledgeable, experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney who knows how these laws operate so that the proper questions are asked and the right facts are ascertained.

If you were arrested for assault or another criminal charge after acting in self-defense, consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer today. Call our Pennsylvania office at (215) 372-8667 for a free consultation about your criminal charges and legal options.

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