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When Can Deadly Force Be Used in Defense of a Home or Other Place of Security?

One nightmare everyone dreads is being awakened by the sound of breaking glass or other unexpected noise coming from downstairs and encountering an intruder. In that scenario, what can you do to protect yourself, your family and your possessions?

Pennsylvania follows the “castle doctrine,” a legal principle allowing you to use deadly force against someone who has unlawfully entered or is in the process of unlawfully entering your residence or vehicle. In those circumstances, it will be presumed that your use of deadly force was reasonable. In order to successfully assert the castle doctrine as a defense to criminal charges, you cannot have been the initial aggressor or have engaged in an illegal activity yourself. However, you are under no duty to retreat.

In addition, since 2011, the Pennsylvania statute on use of force for self-protection has included a “stand your ground” provision. This affirmative defense is broader than the castle doctrine in that it is not limited to residences or cars. However, there are several criteria that must be met in order to successfully assert the stand your ground statute:

  • You must be in a place that you have the right to be.
  • Any firearm that you use must be legally in your possession.
  • You must not be engaged in illegal activity.
  • You must reasonably believe that you are in danger of death, serious injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse by force or threat.
  • The person attacking must you be in possession of a firearm or other deadly weapon.

If those criteria apply, you do not have a duty to retreat and you may use deadly force to defend yourself.

Since there are strict conditions for the right to use force in self-defense, it is vital to consult with an experienced Pennsylvania criminal attorney about the most effective way to assert the castle doctrine or stand your ground law as a defense. Call Matthew R. Zatko, Attorney at Law at 814-483-7075 or contact me online for a free consultation on your legal issue today. I serve clients throughout Somerset County, Indiana County, Cambria County and Bedford County.