What Is Pennsylvania's Self-Defense Stand Your Ground Law?
Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin determined in May 2022 that the killing of a 36-year-old Allentown man was justified under Pennsylvania’s self-defense stand your ground law.
All states have some form of self-defense laws, allowing people to use force when protecting themselves from death or serious bodily injury. Pennsylvania is one of the states that permit the use of force without a duty to retreat, also known as “stand your ground” laws.
If you injure or kill someone in self-defense, you need an attorney to effectively argue your case. Otherwise, you could be facing violent felony charges in Pennsylvania.
Drugs & Alcohol Caused Aggressive Behavior
Vincent Bynum was shot and killed in February 2022 by a neighbor. Bynum, who was under the influence of alcohol and PCP, was hallucinating and exhibiting aggressive and paranoid behavior.
Before being shot, he had assaulted a neighbor who crawled home for protection and to take medication for epilepsy. He feared his injuries would trigger a seizure. When another neighbor confronted Bynum about his behavior, Bynum punched the man. He then jumped the divider between the two homes and attempted to punch the resident again.
That neighbor, who legally possessed a firearm, fired two shots. Bynum died from his injuries.
The Lehigh County Coroner’s Office ruled Bynum’s death a homicide. Homicide, in legal terms, means that a person is killed by someone else but does not place any judgment. Homicide is not necessarily a crime. Only after investigation and surmising intent can charges be filed.
In this case, investigators interviewed witnesses, looked at surveillance video, and spoke to the first person assaulted by Bynum. The Lehigh County district attorney determined that the shooting was justified and chose not to file criminal charges.
“When considering all the relevant facts and information obtained in the investigation, and in the context of the Pennsylvania laws of self-defense; and the Castle Doctrine; the District Attorney has exercised his discretion and determined the shooting to have been justified and no criminal charges will be filed,” explained a news release from the DA’s office.
The Castle Doctrine in Self-Defense
Laws related to self-defense allow conduct that is normally a crime to be used as a valid legal defense. Pennsylvania amended its self-defense laws, including the Castle Doctrine in 2011.
The Castle Doctrine states that if a person is inside their home, they do not have to retreat before using deadly force. The name comes from something said by English parliament member and writer Sir Edward Coke: “A man’s house is his castle and fortress, and (his) home is his safest refuge.”
No Duty to Retreat in Many Circumstances
Traditional self-defense doctrines require someone to first attempt to retreat or remove themselves from the situation before resorting to deadly force. The Castle Doctrine removes the duty to retreat when the person is in their own home. Pennsylvania law now expands the right to use deadly force in any place the person has the right to be if they believe themselves to be in danger of death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, or rape.
Pennsylvania law covers these areas for self-defense:
- Use of force in self-protection
- Use of force for the protection of other persons
- Use of force for the protection of property
The 2011 amendment also eliminated the need for the accused to prove that they “reasonably believed that the use of force was necessary.” There is now a presumption of the reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary for most circumstances.
States without a duty to retreat include the following:
- New Hampshire
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
More than a dozen states still require a duty to retreat.
Safeguarding Your Right to Protect Yourself
Taking someone’s life is an extreme action. The law provides Pennsylvanians the right to use deadly force when they feel that it’s necessary to protect themselves, others, and property.
Our criminal defense attorneys at Scaringi Law understand every aspect of the state’s self-defense laws. Throughout the entire process, we can argue the details of your case and your right to use deadly force.
If you injure or kill someone in self-defense, contact Scaringi Law immediately. We offer free initial case consultations. Call (717) 775-7195 to schedule.