When Can You Claim Self-Defense in Pennsylvania?

If you have been charged with a violent crime in Chester County, Pennsylvania, you need to identify all of the potential defenses that you might raise.

Violent crimes in Pennsylvania can result in serious penalties. Depending on your charges, you could face decades in prison and substantial fines if you are convicted.

Depending on the circumstances of what happened, you might be able to assert a claim of self-defense or defense of others to defend against your criminal charges.

If successful, these types of defenses could result in an acquittal or dismissal of your charges. However, asserting self-defense or the defense of others also comes with some risks.

If you think that you might be able to argue that you acted in defense of yourself or others, you should speak with a criminal defense lawyer at DiCindio Law as soon as possible.

Your attorney can help you understand whether you have grounds for these types of defenses and what your other options might be.

Justification Defense

Both self-defense and defense of others are called justification defenses. When you assert self-defense or defense of others in your case, you will be admitting that you used force against another person but that you should not be found guilty because you were justified in doing so.

This means that you had no other option than to violently defend yourself or another person against someone else’s imminent threat of serious bodily injury, death, kidnapping, or rape.


Self-defense is found in 18 Pa.C.S. § 505 Under this statute, using force against someone else is justified when you reasonably believe that it is immediately necessary to do so to protect yourself from the other person’s use of illegal force.

However, your use of force will not be justified in certain situations, including the following:

  • While resisting arrest
  • When non-lethal force would have been sufficient when you instead used deadly force
  • When you provoked the other person’s initial use of force
  • Using deadly force when you had the duty to retreat and could have done so safely

To be successful with a self-defense claim, you must satisfy all of the elements of self-defense. If one of the elements is missing, the prosecutor might be able to convict you of the crime with which you are charged even though you believed that you acted in self-defense.

The elements of self-defense are described below.

1. Reasonable Belief

The first thing that you must be able to show is that you had a reasonable belief that you were in imminent danger of the other person’s unlawful use of force against you.

For example, if the other person said, “I’m going to hit you in 30 minutes”, that would not qualify as a reasonable belief of imminent danger if you then used force against the person who made the threat of future use of unlawful force against you.

2. Immediately Necessary

You must also believe that using force to protect yourself is immediately necessary. Again, a threat of future harm is not sufficient. If you had a possibility of retreating to reach safety, you also would not be able to meet this element of self-defense.

However, there is no duty to retreat if you were in your home or workplace when you were attacked by an assailant.

3. Unlawful Force Threatened or Used

A claim of self-defense will also only apply when you were confronted by someone else’s unlawful use of force. If you were being placed under arrest, for example, the force used against you would be lawful and would not allow you to claim self-defense.

4. Force Used To Defend Yourself In the Present

Your fear that you will be subjected to imminent physical injury must also exist in the present and cannot be based on your past experience.

For example, if the other person has attacked you in the past, you can’t attack him or her in the present unless he or she also threatens to use unlawful force against you in the present.

If you instead attack him or her when your attack was not currently provoked by his or her present actions, you cannot claim self-defense.

Defense Of Others

A related justification defense, defense of others, is found in 18 Pa.C.S. § 506 Under this statute, you can raise a claim of defense of another when that person would have been justified to use force in defense of himself or herself against an imminent threat of serious bodily injury, kidnapping, rape, or death.

You would also need to have reasonably believed that intervening was necessary to protect the other person from a third party. If you can successfully raise the defense of others, it is a complete defense.

How Self-Defense/Defense Of Others Is Established In Criminal Cases

You must first claim self-defense or defense of others to raise these types of defenses in a criminal case. If you present some evidence showing that the jury or judge might find your actions were justified, the prosecutor will then have the burden of proof to show that your actions under the circumstances were not justifiable.

While you only have to present some evidence, the prosecutor has the burden of proving that your actions were not justified beyond a reasonable doubt. The more evidence you can present to establish self-defense or defense of others, the better.

Some of the types of evidence that might help you to establish a justification defense include the following:

  • Testimony from eyewitnesses confirming you acted in reaction to the other person’s threatened unlawful use of force
  • Surveillance video
  • Photos of any injuries you suffered in the attack
  • Damaged clothing or other items
  • Medical records of any treatment you received for your injuries
  • Emails, text messages, or voicemails from the other person leading up to the attack in cases involving domestic violence

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

***This blog article is made available by the law firm publisher for educational purposes and to provide general information, not to provide specific legal advice. By reading, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The above listed information does not include the entire crimes code, annotations, amendments or any recent changes that may be relevant. The information provided is for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. Please contact DiCindio Law, LLC for a consultation and to discuss what law is relevant to your case. ***