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When Does a Person Lose the Right to Self-Defense?

This is a tricky question. Naturally, a person does not have the right to self-defense when acting unlawfully and threatening harm to an innocent party. A person cannot claim self-defense after robbing another at gunpoint if the victim also pulls out a weapon. However, are there circumstances where a victim who initially has a right to self-defense loses that right and can be charged with assault or homicide for continuing to use force? The answer is yes. During an altercation, circumstances may change, stripping you of the right to use force, especially deadly force, against the person who initially provoked you.

You have a duty to cease and desist after the threat is gone

The law of self-defense gives you the right to use force when you have a reasonable fear that you are in immediate danger of being killed, badly injured, kidnapped or raped. When an armed person is confronting you, your right to self-defense is clear. However, whether you still have the right to use force becomes questionable if:

  • The assailant lowers the weapon.
  • The assailant turns away.
  • The assailant walks away.

At that point, would a reasonable person believe the threat has passed? Or is there still something in the assailant’s demeanor that indicates the threat is ongoing? In many cases, the law of self-defense requires the assailant to renew the confrontation before you are allowed to use force again.

When a home invasion ends, so does your right to use force

Pennsylvania law assumes that if a robber enters a home, the inhabitants are in danger of being killed, badly injured, kidnapped or raped, and therefore have the right to use deadly force. However, in most cases, that right terminates when the robber leaves the home. It’s important to realize that you do not have the right to use deadly force to defend property. Once the robber has fled your home, even if the person is running off with your stereo, you do not have the right to shoot.

Pennsylvanians who exercise their right to self-defense can find themselves under intensive police scrutiny. Before you try explaining what happened, make sure you have representation from an experienced Reading criminal defense attorney.

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