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Does Pennsylvania Have a Stand Your Ground Law?

November 13, 2018

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

Self Defense and Duty to Retreat

Under 18 Pa. C.S.A § 505, it is legal to use physical force, deadly force even, if you reasonably believe that there is an immediate threat against you or someone else, and that force is the only way to stop the perpetrator. In the past, Pennsylvania and most other states had a “duty to retreat” doctrine, which required a person to retreat, if possible, before using force against the perpetrator. For example, if you were walking down the street and someone came up to you yelling in your face, and then shoved you for some reason, you would have the duty to continue walking or attempt to flee before you could use deadly force. Changes to the law have made it legal for the person who is being attacked to stand their ground, and does not require them to retreat if attacked. This idea used to apply only to dwellings. The “Castle Doctrine” stated that if you were in your home and an uninvited person came in and you believed that there was a reasonable threat of harm to you or another person, you could use deadly force to protect your home. This premise has been expanded to outside with Pennsylvania’s stand your ground law.

No Duty to Retreat Under Stand Your Ground Law

Under Pennsylvania law 18 P.S.A. § 505 (2.3), a person who is not in the process of committing a criminal act, who is not in possession of an illegal firearm, and who is attacked in any place where they have a legal right to be (i.e. not trespassing) has “no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground and use force, including deadly force,” under the following circumstances:

  • They have a right to be where they were attacked;
  • They believe that it is immediately necessary to use the force to protect themselves or another against serious bodily injury, death, kidnapping, or rape; and
  • The attacker is using or displays firearm or other deadly weapon.

The last point is an important one. If the attacker does not have a firearm, firearm replica, or other potentially deadly weapon, you technically have to retreat before you are allowed to use deadly force against that person. However, there is considerable wiggle room here, as this law, like others, is open to interpretation and the jury’s beliefs. It could very well be argued that if you turned your back to retreat, and the attacker had no weapon, the attacker would have hit you from behind. Moreover, sometimes there really is no way to safely retreat, whether the assailant had a deadly weapon or not.

Who Were These Laws Written For?

“Stand Your Ground” laws are popping up in states across the U.S. these days as gun advocates and groups like the NRA have become increasingly politicized and vocalized. But do stand your ground laws work for everyone? From our country’s origin, self-defense laws were one-sided, applying only to white people. It was legal to kill a native or a black person in self-defense, but not the other way around. According to historian Caroline Light, stand your ground laws have kept with this mantra, and “were written for white, heterosexual, property-owning men,” as reported by NPR. African-American men, versus white men, are treated differently when they’re armed. “The deck is stacked against people who are judged to be or perceived to be a threat, as are people of color, particularly men of color, in the United States.”

Call A Philadelphia Criminal Defense

Whether you are black or white, if you have been charged with a crime for defending yourself, you need to further protect yourself from criminal prosecution. Contact the Philadelphia law firm of van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim today at (215) 486-0123.



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