Self Defense in Pennsylvania

If you have been charged with assault or homicide in Pennsylvania, stop, pause and think. Odds are you weren’t looking for trouble. Trouble came looking for you. You were acting in self-defense. Immediately, stop thinking about what the police and the alleged victim are saying. Next, you need to consult with a skilled criminal lawyer right away. Therefore, you need to call us.

Most importantly, a valid self-defense claim could mean the difference in a dismissal of your case or spending your life behind bars. 

Time is of the essence.

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When selecting which attorney to hire, please consider:

  • Can you call anytime and talk to a live person?
  • Do they offer payment plans with no credit checks?
  • Will your attorney be attentive and explain what’s going on?

At The McShane Firm, we answer yes to all of these questions. We strive to provide you with a great customer service experience during this tough time.

Understanding self-defense.

Self-defense is a justification defense. This means you admit to doing the act. You definitely did what the cops said you did. It was not an accident. However, you had to do what you did in order to protect yourself or someone else. In addition, 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. Then, it becomes the government’s burden to prove that you did not act in self-defense. In other words, the government must prove this wasn’t self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

What you lose with a conviction

There are two basic types of self-defense.

Self-Defense: Use of Ordinary Force, Minor Force, Simple Force, Bodily Force

The first type of self-defense 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 is The McShane Difference?

  • We take time to understand your personal needs and goals. Then we cater our legal strategy to fit you.
  • We care about you. We listen and return phone calls. We will take time to explain things so you are not left anxious in the dark.
  • We will make this as easy as possible. We will try to minimize the number of times you have to be in court which means less disruption of your work and family life.

Does this sound like what you are looking for in an attorney? If yes, then take the next step and call (717) 657-3900.

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).

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Self-Defense: Use of Deadly Force

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.

A twist…

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.

Self-defense laws in PA protect you from a wrongful conviction

Whether or not there was justified use of force and/or justified use of deadly force is very fact dependent. This is where an attorney who understands violence in the real world can play a big part. The circumstances that exist in your case must be evaluated with a fine tooth comb. Moreover, no two cases are alike. Therefore, it takes an experienced and knowledgeable attorney to help you develop your self-defense claim. We need to 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. Obviously, this is the fight for your freedom!

Age-based mandatory minimums in PA

Recommended additional reading on Assault and Self-defense laws in PA

Our Clients are entitled to a Bill of Rights which states:

  • Our clients have the right to expect, we will be proactive in communication. You will hear it from us first. We will return all phone calls, texts and emails promptly.
  • Our clients have the right to expect plain speaking, straight shooting. No B. S.
  • Our clients have the right to expect us to do it right the first time, every time.
  • Our clients have the right to expect us to be on time and professionally prepared for all court appearances, and all meetings.
  • Our clients have the right to expect that they will be fully informed at all times.

This is our promise to you. Call today to get us on your side: (717) 657-3900.

More Self Defense Information- The latest statistics

According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts in 2017, there were 25,878 offenses committed against a person. These are mostly assault and related offenses.

The Most Dangerous

When measured by the number of assault offenses per 1,000 people, the counties that
had the most offenses were:

Counties with the Highest Rate of Assault Offenses

Different Types of
Assault Charges

Type of Offense PA Statute Description Penalty Range
Simple Assault 18 § 2701 Attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another.
  • Up to 2 years imprisonment and $5,000 in fines
  • For fighting by mutual consent, up to 1 year imprisonment and $2,000 in fines
  • If against a minor under 12 by and adult, then up to 5 years imprisonment and $10,000 in fines
Aggravated Assault 18 § 2702 Attempting to cause serious bodily injury to another. There are many other aggravating factors such as assaulting a law enforcement officer, school teacher or employee.
  • If graded as a Felony of the First Degree then up to 20 years imprisonment and $25,000 in fines
  • If graded as a Felony of the Second Degree then up to 10 years imprisonment and $25,000 in fines
Involuntary Manslaughter 18 § 2504 A person is guilty of involuntary manslaughter when as a direct result of the doing of an unlawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, or the doing of a lawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, he causes the death of another person.
  • Up to 5 years imprisonment and $10,000 in fines
  • If the victim is under 12 years of age and is in the care or custody the person who caused the death then up to 10 years imprisonment and $25,000 in fines
Voluntary Manslaughter 18 § 2503 A person who kills an individual without lawful justification commits voluntary manslaughter if at the time of the killing he is acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation.
  • Up to 20 years imprisonment and $25,000 in fines
Murder 18 § 2502 A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the first degree when it is committed by an intentional killing.
  • If graded as a Murder of the Third Degree then up to 40 years imprisonment and $25,000 in fines
  • If graded as a Murder of the Second Degree then Mandatory life imprisonment
  • If graded as a Murder of the First Degree then Mandatory Death or Mandatory life imprisonment

An Assault Conviction can Shatter your Life

Beyond the penalties in court, an assault conviction can ruin your life in many ways.

  • 1 An assault conviction will stay on your criminal record forever. Future employers, friends, even someone you ask out to dinner can easily use common apps to see your assault conviction.
  • 2 Depending on the nature and severity of the crime, you can lose your professional license. This affects people from many professions such as doctors, lawyers, massage therapists and even barbers.
  • 3 Many companies have policies not to hire someone who has been convicted of a violent crime.
  • 4 If your conviction is a sexual offense, you may have to register as a sex offender which may make it difficult to find a place to live.

Our Clients Love us!

You will too!

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I trust along with the whole firm. ”

For more information please call: 1-866-MCSHANE or visit

3601 Vartan Way, 2nd Floor, Harrisburg, PA 17110


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