Self Defense in Pennsylvania

If you have been charged with assault or homicide in Pennsylvania, but believe that you were acting in self-defense, you need to consult with a skilled criminal lawyer right away. A valid self-defense claim could mean the difference in a dismissal of your case or spending your life behind bars.

Contact a knowledgeable attorney right away. Time is of the essence.

Understanding self-defense.

Self-defense is a justification defense. This means you admit to committing the act. You definitely did what the cops said you did and it was not an accident, but that you had to do what you did in order to protect yourself or someone else. Self-defense is also what the courts call an “affirmative defense.” This means that before your trial, you have to raise the defense. Your attorney will tell the prosecution that you are claiming self-defense, and it then becomes the government’s burden to prove that you did not act in self-defense. They must prove this beyond a reasonable doubt.

There are two basic types of self-defense.

The first is justified use of force. Self-defense using force is justified when “the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion.” 18 Pa.C.S. § 505. What does this mean in layman’s terms? You are justified in using force – a shove or a punch or similar – against another person if you  reasonably believe that you must do so in order to protect yourself from them hurting you (or someone else). The injury that you are trying to prevent must be immediate. You cannot use self-defense to protect from some event that may occur at some point in the future. It has to be happening right now. Your belief that you must use force to protect yourself must also be reasonable. For instance, it is not reasonable to believe that an able bodied 30 year old man must use force to protect himself from a feeble 90 year old woman with a walker, who is inching towards him at a snail’s pace, but threating to punch him. It may be reasonable however, if that same able bodied man is being rushed by a much larger, equally able bodied man, who is already winding up to throw a punch.

The second type of self-defense is justified use of deadly force. The underlying circumstances necessary for justified use of deadly force are similar to use of non-deadly force. The actor (meaning the person using self-defense) must reasonably believe that such use of deadly force is immediately necessary to protect against:

  • Death
  • Serious bodily injury
  • Kidnapping, or
  • Sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat.

These are the only situations in which deadly force is justified. Again, the threat must be immediate and reasonable.

Another twist when it comes to use of deadly force is that you cannot use deadly force if you can avoid the threat completely by retreating to complete safety. The duty to retreat does not exist in certain situations, including if the person you are using force against has or displays a weapon.

The determination of justified use of force and justified use of deadly force is very fact dependent and all the circumstances that exist in your case must be evaluated. No two cases are alike and it takes an experienced and knowledgeable attorney to help you develop your self-defense claim and protect you from a possibility of life behind bars. Contact The McShane Firm today for your free, no-obligation consultation. We’ll discuss your legal options and help you fight for your freedom.