One common defense that defendants facing violent offenses face often employ is a self-defense one. This defense centers around the idea that you turned to force to protect yourself from being subjected to significant bodily harm or death at the hands of another individual.
Various self-defense laws exist, including “Stand Your Ground” laws. While Pennsylvania doesn’t have such a law in place, we do employ the Castle Doctrine, which functions similarly in that it provides legal protections for people who commit violence in the name of self-defense.
What does Pennsylvania’s Castle Doctrine allow?
You can use force without needing to initially retreat when faced with imminent danger per this law. This doctrine is only applicable if you’re in your “castle” or a secure place, such as your place of employment, home or in your car. The logic behind the law is that you shouldn’t feel the need to retreat from potential attackers when you’re in what should be a safe place, such as the above-referenced places.
There is one exception in the application of this doctrine: It doesn’t apply to you if you were the initial aggressor in the altercation with the other party.
How do Pennsylvania’s self-defense laws define “imminent danger”?
18 Pa.C.S.A § 505 describes the use of force for self-protection, whereas 18 Pa.C.S.A § 506 is the state law describing when force can be used to protect others (aside from yourself).
The first statute describes how self-protection is only lawful when you have a reasonable fear that force is warranted to protect yourself from someone else’s illegal actions that have the strong potential to result in your serious injury or death. In the case of the latter statute, you may be able to use force to protect others if you believe that your involvement is necessary — such as protecting a friend or child from an attack.
It’s important that you understand the ins and outs of the Castle Doctrine and your right to apply it if you’re threatened with violence. This insight may provide you with some insight into how to best build an effective defense strategy in your criminal case.