Pennsylvania Self Defense Laws

Generally, the use of force against another person is a crime. However, the law allows for the use of force in certain situations. Using deadly force might be justified in some cases.

Pennsylvania defines the use of force in self-protection in 18 Pa. C.S. §505. According to the statute, the use of force toward or upon another person is justified when:

  • You believe that such force is immediately necessary; AND,
  • The use of force is to protect yourself against another person’s use of unlawful force.

However, the law sets limitations and restrictions on using force to defend yourself or another person. Therefore, a self-defense claim does not automatically mean you cannot be found guilty of the alleged crime.

Statutory Limitations on Self-Defense in Pennsylvania 

Situations when you might not be able to claim self-defense under Pennsylvania law include:

  • The use of force to resist arrest when you know that the person arresting you is a law enforcement officer, even though the arrest might be unlawful.
  • The use of force to resist force by a person occupying the property or another person acting on that person’s behalf when you know that the person is using force under a claim of the right to protect property. 
  • Unless you believe that deadly force is necessary to protect yourself from serious bodily injury, death, non-consensual sexual intercourse, or kidnapping, the use of deadly force is not justified.
  • When you provoke the use of force against you with the intent of causing serious bodily injury or death to another person, the use of deadly force is not justified. 
  • The use of deadly force is not justified if you know you can avoid using force with complete safety by retreating. However, you are not required to retreat from your dwelling or workplace unless you were the initial aggressor.

There could be other situations in which self-defense might not be justified. A criminal defense lawyer assesses the case to determine if a claim of self-defense is justified.

What Do You Have to Prove for a Self-Defense Claim?

Because self-defense is an affirmative defense to violent crimes, you have the burden of proving the elements of a self-defense claim. But to assert the defense, you must admit that you used force against another person. Therefore, you should always consult with a criminal defense attorney before attempting to claim self-defense.

After admitting you used force, you proceed with a justification defense. The justification defense requires you to prove the elements of self-defense:

Reasonable Belief

You had a reasonable belief that you were in imminent danger. For example, a person threatened you with a knife or held you down with the intent of committing rape.

However, if a person tells you they will run you over with their car within the next hour, a reasonable person might not assume they were in imminent danger. They could call the police and take action to avoid the situation. 

Immediate Action Was Necessary

You must also prove that you believed you had to use force immediately to protect yourself. In other words, if you did not use force at that very moment, you would suffer serious bodily injury, rape, kidnapping, or death.

Use of Unlawful Force or Threats of Force Against You

Self-defense only applies when you are confronted by a person who is using unlawful force. So, for example, self-defense would not apply if someone cursed at you and you decided to hit them.

Force in the Present Situation 

Self-defense cannot be used to justify an attack for something that occurred in the past. The threat of harm must be immediate in the present situation. In other words, self-defense is not justified if you decide to hit someone because they hit you last week.

Using Force to Protect Another Person

The Pennsylvania self-defense law for protecting another person is found in 18 Pa. C.S. §506. Generally, you can raise a self-defense claim for protecting another person if that person would have been justified in using force to defend themselves. You need to reasonably believe that intervening was necessary to protect the person from a third party.

If you have not been arrested yet, a self-defense lawyer might help you avoid arrest by asserting self-defense. It is best to contact a criminal lawyer as soon as possible after any situation where you use force against another person.

Contact Our Criminal Defense Law Firm in West Chester, PA

If you are facing criminal charges and need legal help, contact the West Chester, PA criminal defense lawyers at DiCindioLaw, LLC to schedule a free initial consultation.

DiCindio Law, LLC
29 S Walnut St
West Chester, PA 19382
(610) 430-3535