Use of Deadly Force in Pennsylvania Expanded Beyond the Confines of Your “Castle”

Filed under: Criminal Law, Death Penalty Cases Tags: by Steven F. Fairlie @ July 14, 2011

Use of Deadly Force in Pennsylvania Expanded Beyond the Confines of Your “Castle”

In Pennsylvania, there is a limited right to self-defense when you are attacked. The use of force in self-defense is justifiable when an individual believes it is necessary to protect himself against force from another person. However, in order to be justifiable, the force used in self-defense cannot exceed the force of the attacker. That is, the use of deadly force is not justifiable unless an individual reasonably feels the need to protect him or herself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or rape. In addition, the threat must be imminent. For instance, if someone were to call you and threaten to kill you in five days, self-defense is not a viable defense because the threat is not imminent. Lastly, under current Pennsylvania law, there is a general “duty to retreat.” The exception to this duty is established in the “Castle Doctrine,” the source of recent legislative expansion in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania has historically followed the Castle Doctrine when it comes to the use of deadly force in self-defense. This is a common law doctrine of ancient origins, which declares that your home is your castle and you have a right to defend it. Therefore, under current Pennsylvania law, you are justified in using deadly force without retreating if you are faced with an imminent threat as previously described inside of your home, or “castle.” In all other places a person must retreat if it can be done safely. Under the “duty to retreat,” if an individual knows he can avoid using force by safely retreating or surrendering his possessions to an attacker, he is obligated to do so. However, for Pennsylvania at least, the laws on how you can protect yourself will be changing.
Recently, Governor Tom Corbett signed legislation affording Pennsylvania citizens greater legal protection for the use of deadly force taken in self-defense. Under the expansion, law-abiding citizens will be justified in using force, including deadly force, against an attacker in their home and any place outside of their home where they have a legal right to be. The right to stand your ground that currently exists only within one’s home will be extended beyond the home. For instance, if you are in your car, on your bike, or an invited guest in another’s home, you will no longer be required to retreat first and may use deadly force if faced with an imminent threat to your life. The expansion also protects individuals from civil lawsuits by the attacker or the attacker’s family when force is used. However, the expansion specifically excludes using deadly force against a household member or a police officer and during illegal activity or with an illegally purchased weapon.
The passage of the law is not without controversy. Proponents of the expansion claim that it is necessary to place Pennsylvania citizens on equal footing with the criminals who would attack them, and that the expansion serves as a further deterrent against violent crime. They argue that the measure was merely designed to protect law-abiding citizens, who shouldn’t have to fear the long arm of the law when they find themselves in a situation where they might have to resort to using deadly force. Conversely, opponents argue that not only will the expansion fail to reduce crime, but that it will actually increase gun violence. These opponents assert that the new law will turn the state into a Wild West scenario where people can shoot first and be free from prosecution later.

While the law is signed and settled, the debate continues. Does giving people the right to shoot at someone on the street, if they perceive them to be a threat, make people more secure or less so? Does it curb violent crime, exacerbate it, or have little overall impact?

Pennsylvania is about to find out, through trial and error, as the law goes into effect on August 27. Read about defenses to murder here.


  1. Rich says:

    Under “Duty To Retreat” I’m obligated to surrender my possessions to an attacker? I don’t think so. No wonder there are so many criminals on the streets, the laws are written to protect them. Any law-abiding citizen should never have to legally back down from an attacker, no matter where they are. Hopefully these new laws will protect law-abiding citizens while protecting themselves from attack. And hopefully as more citizens chose to arm themselves, it will make the climinals think twice about attacking them on the streets as well as in their homes.

  2. Ian says:

    The commonly held notion that enhancing the rights of the defender will somehow result in a lawless society with a pickup truck full of rednecks running around with John Wayne-era eye patches is a sad blend of paranoia and excessive media consumption. Unless they’re on meth, it stands to reason that criminals (like politicians) are going to find the easiest target – the path of least resistance, if you will. Knowing that Pennsylvania is a state in which an attacker is more likely to get shot is likely to decrease, not increase, the incidence of attacks.

  3. Jodi says:

    In states that already have this law it is a known fact that crime has decreased. I think it is time that law abiding citizens in Pennsylvania have the right to defend themselves in a time of attack without being arrested for it.

  4. Karen says:

    I absolutely agree with the above comments. Every place that has implemented gun control is known for unbeliavably high levels of violence. Where the people are free to protect themselves, crime decreases. As far as I’m concerned if they started the fight I should have the right to finish it if my life is threatened, without fear of retribution. Even my property. Criminals will push the lines as far as they go because people are afraid to defend themselves. That needs to change.

  5. Paul M Williamson says:

    I AGREE WITH EVERY COMMENT ABOVE. IT IS A PROVEN FACT THAT BY ARMING “LAW-ABIDING” CITIZENS AND MAKING THE CRIMINALS AFRAID THAT SOMEONE MAY BE PACKING HAD DECREASED CRIME AND VIOLENT ATTACKS BY STAGGERING AMOUNTS. Could you imagine if a college student with a backpack full of guns, bent on attacking unarmed students, had to think twice because the teacher had a gun, or the security guards were allowed to pack and respond quickly? Those assholes may think twice before attacking unarmed civilians. God bless the Governor and Trump for understanding that making it harder for good people to get guns, will do nothing to stop the blacl market and the felons from getting there hands on weapons. Texas has known this for years. If you’re a criminal you better think twice, because I hope there’s someone around to bring and end to you before you harm innocents.

    Now hopefully the courts and police will start to accept this, however they are quite wary of any citizen carrying, and that’s unfortunate. They need to be educated an understand “in the US, we are supposed to be innocent until PROVEN guilty, not the other way around. More and more people have to prove their innocence nowadays and that’s not what out genius forefathers of this coy try envisioned. They were amazing people with tremendous foresight when it came to the few things the government should have control over. However in the past 200 years or so, liberals have fought tooth and nail to change these policies and make it harder for the good guys to get a fair shake and at the same time, make it easier for criminals to commit crimes and get away with it.

    You guys are all amazing and I hope you teach your children and anyone else in your neighborhood or community the importance of what you said. God bless you all and God bless the U.S.A. the greatest country on earth!

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