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Can You Use Force in Pennsylvania to Defend Yourself?

September 23, 2020

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

An interesting story arose at the end of July. A man was charged with murder after getting into an altercation with a second man. The first man states that he was with a friend when a group of people approached him and he was thrown to the ground. The first man turned over and when he did, saw the second man standing over him. Thinking he was about to get beaten and allegedly acting in self-defense, the first man shot him, and the shot proved to be fatal. Witness statements corroborated the first man’s story, only stating that the second man did not have a weapon at the time.

The story is interesting and raises a point people in Pennsylvania question all the time. Is use of force allowed in Pennsylvania to defend yourself? While self-defense is allowed, it is crucial that you understand the law, and the many myths that surround it.

What is Self-Defense?

Self-defense is known as an affirmative defense. That is to say that you do not deny that you committed the alleged offense, and that you did so knowingly and intentionally.

In Pennsylvania, a person can use deadly force, including using a firearm, to protect their life or limb, as a means of self-protection from great bodily harm, or the fear of great bodily harm. A person can also use self-defense when they believe someone is about to have sexual intercourse with them through force or threat, or when they believe they are in danger of being kidnapped.

After claiming self-defense, the burden of proof then lies with the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did not act in self-defense.

Myths Surrounding Self-Defense

Many myths have arisen surrounding self-defense over the years. Many of these revolve around the obligations a person has when using self-defense to protect themselves. When using self-defense, you have no legal obligation to:

  • Verbally warn the assailant before firing a firearm
  • Use a warning shot
  • Provide the perpetrator with a chance of escape
  • Call 911 before or after using deadly force
  • Tell the assailant that you have a gun
  • Shoot to injure before using deadly force
  • Provide a statement to the police or anyone else after using self-defense

Perhaps the most important aspect of the above myths is that you do not have any obligation to tell the police that you have shot or injured someone. In fact, you should never speak to the police if you believe there is a chance you may face charges. Instead, call a criminal defense lawyer first that can tell you how to proceed with law enforcement.

Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers can Help with Your Case

If you have used self-defense to protect yourself and are now facing charges, or you fear that you will be arrested, call our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers at van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim. We know how to use this affirmative defense to give you the best chance of a positive outcome with your case. Call us today at (215) 486-0123 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.



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