Are You the King (or Queen) of Your Castle?
Pennsylvania’s stand your ground law
Ask many homeowners to describe their worst nightmare and you might be surprised to discover how many fear of being attacked by criminals in their own homes. This fear underlies Pennsylvania’s Castle Doctrine. It allows citizens to defend themselves with deadly force if they are threatened at home, or even on a porch or patio.
This law was successfully invoked in a 2011 case when a Somerset County man killed his wife’s jealous lover with a bowshot to the chest after the lover approached the man’s house brandishing a wooden club.
After the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida, stand your ground laws like PA’s Castle Doctrine came under a lot of scrutiny. However, proponents of Pennsylvania’s law, amended in 2011, point out that our law closes some of the flaws that existed in Florida’s original law. For instance, the law could have been interpreted as prohibiting the use of deadly force against a police officer. The Pennsylvania law is complicated, but some of its important features are:
- There is no duty to retreat at your home or place of work if someone who does not live or work there attacks you. If you instigated the fight, however, you cannot invoke the protection of this law.
- The use of deadly force is not justifiable unless you can prove that you had a reasonable belief that such force is necessary to protect yourself against “death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat.” If you know, however, that the other person is unlawfully intruding on your property, the law presumes that you have a reasonable belief and you do not need to prove it.
- If someone who does have the right to be on the property attacks you, you may use deadly force only if you have a right to be there too and you have a reasonable belief that it is necessary and the other person displays or uses a lethal weapon.
- If you are engaged in a crime, you are not protected by this law.
Pennsylvania’s Castle Doctrine is meant to protect your rights as the king of your castle but it is always best if you can peacefully avoid a violent encounter. If someone has verbally threatened you and you think they might attempt to intrude on your property to harm you, first contact the police. Then talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney before things spiral out of control to learn about your right to defend yourself, and your family or property.