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When Can a Person Claim Self Defense Under Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground Law?


This week a small business owner in Northeast Philadelphia received a lot of attention when he shot and killed a robber. According to reports, a 19 year-old entered a deli in Northeast Philadelphia, pulled a gun, and ordered the woman working at the counter to give him the money from the register. The terrified woman called out to her husband, the owner of the deli. Her husband came out of the back room and confronted the robber. When the robber fired a shot at the business owner, he returned fire with his own gun and killed the robber.

Police have not charged deli owner with any crimes. High profile cases like this, or the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida, often cause people to ask about self defense rules in Pennsylvania.

In Pennsylvania, justifiable self-defense can either prevent criminal charges from being brought, or gain an acquittal for someone who has been criminally charged. In order to establish justifiable self defense in Pennsylvania, a person that kills or injures another must show three things:

  1. there was a reasonable belief that the danger of death or serious injury was imminent and deadly force was necessary to prevent it;
  2. the defendant did not provoke the situation that put them in harm of death or injury; and
  3. the defendant did not violate any duty of retreat.

If the accused can show these three facts by a preponderance of the evidence (that means by more than a 50% likelihood), then the burden is upon a prosecutor to prove that the accused was not acting in self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt (a much higher standard). If the prosecuter cannot meet this steep burden, the accused’s act was justified, and the accused must be acquitted of the charges. Normally an accused will give up his right to remain silent and testify in his own defense to prove the three facts above.

A common question is “when does someone have to retreat?” Under most circumstances, a person does not have to retreat from their own home, or from their place of business. Recently, Pennsylvania also added a “stand your ground” provision to its self defense law. A person can stand their ground and use deadly force if:

  1. they are not engaged in any criminal activity;
  2. they are not in illegal possession of a firearm;
  3. they are attacked in a place where they have a right to be;
  4. they believe that it is immediately necessary to use force to protect themselves against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual assault; and
  5. the person that the force is used against displays or uses a gun, a fake gun, or any other weapon readily or apparently capable of lethal use.

If you or someone you know has been charged with, or accused of, any form of assault in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, or Delaware Counties, it is important to contact a competent attorney as quickly as possible so you can be informed of the nature and extent of all the charges and to start building a defense to these serious charges as soon as possible. Every attorney at PT&L is a former assistant district attorney from the Major Trials Unit. Our Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys have handled hundreds of assault cases ranging from fist fights to shootings, stabbings, and domestic violence. With more than 40 years of experience, our attorneys have extensive knowledge of how to defend these specific types cases so that your freedom and constitutional rights are protected.

For a free consultation with an experienced attorney please contact us at (215) 352-3432.