Castle Doctrine Law: Pennsylvania

Castle Doctrine is one of the most important legal concepts to understand pertaining to self-defense law.

Roundly, Castle Doctrine means that a person who is occupying their home, place of business or occupied vehicle has no obligation to retreat and may use lethal force in defense of any such place when an intruder enters or attempts to enter forcibly or visit violence upon any one occupant.

flag of Pennsylvania

Castle Doctrine is now in effect by specific statute or by legal precedent in most us states, including the state of Pennsylvania. However, Pennsylvania’s laws are lengthy, intricate, and far from intuitive in meaning.

This requires any serious student of self-defense take the time to read and reread the laws, and seek legal counsel in order to obtain a full and rigorous understanding of the laws.

The article below will serve as an overview of Pennsylvania’s most important Castle Doctrine precepts, and we will include verbatim the relevant state statutes at the end.

Fast Facts

  • Lethal force is only ever justifiable under Pennsylvania law when it is employed to prevent the unlawful use of force against the defender or someone else that could result in death, great bodily injury, or the commission of a forcible felony such as carjacking, rape or kidnapping.
  • Force in defense and lethal force in particular is only ever permissible under Pennsylvania law at the instant that it is required to prevent harm.
  • Pennsylvania law and self-defense law in particular is wordy and intricate, and as far from easy for lay people to understand or decipher. Readers are strongly encouraged to seek legal counsel from a competent attorney fluent in self-defense law as part of a robust self-defense plan.

Overview of Castle Doctrine Law in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania lacks any statute spelling out Castle Doctrine by name, but Castle Doctrine is nonetheless legally functional and upheld by precedent in the state.

So long as a defender is occupying their home, business, vehicle or other dwelling, be it permanent or temporary, they may use lethal force against any person who is attempting to unlawfully and forcibly enter that dwelling place or vehicle to harm an occupant or commit a forcible felony within, or is attempting to remove someone from the premises.

The state of Pennsylvania presumes that under such circumstances the defender is possessed of reasonable fear of great bodily injury or death so as the perpetrator using unlawful force or committing or preparing to commit a forceful felony is in the process of forcibly entering the dwelling or vehicle, or had already forcibly entered the dwelling or vehicle if the unlawful act is currently ongoing.

Restrictions

Many. Most notably a person that may not claim self-defense or be protected under the Castle Doctrine if they are the initial aggressor in any confrontation or are using force against any person which has a legal, lawful right to occupy the same property, or has legal guardianship or is a parent of anyone that they are attempting to remove from the property.

Again, readers are highly encouraged to consult a knowledgeable attorney who is versed in Pennsylvania self-defense law as part of their self-defense preparations.

Assessment

The long, intricate and difficult to decipher for lay people Pennsylvania’s self-defense laws, including a functional Castle Doctrine statute, are nonetheless of great benefit to citizens who might have to use force in defense of themselves, their families and their homes.

Make sure you read, reread and reread again the following statutes until you obtain clarity.

Relevant Pennsylvania Castle Doctrine Statutes

2301. Definitions.

Subject to additional definitions contained in subsequent provisions of this article which are applicable to specific chapters or other provisions of this article, the following words and phrases, when used in this article shall have, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise, the meanings given to them in this section:

“Bodily injury.” Impairment of physical condition or substantial pain.

“Deadly weapon.” Any firearm, whether loaded or unloaded, or any device designed as a weapon and capable of producing death or serious bodily injury, or any other device or instrumentality which, in the manner in which it is used or intended to be used, is calculated or likely to produce death or serious bodily injury.

“Serious bodily injury.” Bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.

“Serious provocation.” Conduct sufficient to excite an intense passion in a reasonable person.

505. Use of force in self-protection.

(a) Use of force justifiable for protection of the person.–The use of force upon or toward another person is justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion.

(b) Limitations on justifying necessity for use of force.–

(1) The use of force is not justifiable under this section:

(i) to resist an arrest which the actor knows is being made by a peace officer, although the arrest is unlawful; or

(ii) to resist force used by the occupier or possessor of property or by another person on his behalf, where the actor knows that the person using the force is doing so under a claim of right to protect the property, except that this limitation shall not apply if:

(A) the actor is a public officer acting in the performance of his duties or a person lawfully assisting him therein or a person making or assisting in a lawful arrest;

(B) the actor has been unlawfully dispossessed of the property and is making a reentry or recaption justified by section 507 of this title (relating to use of force for the protection of property); or

(C) the actor believes that such force is necessary to protect himself against death or serious bodily injury.

(2) The use of deadly force is not justifiable under this section unless the actor believes that such force is necessary to protect himself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat; nor is it justifiable if:

(i) the actor, with the intent of causing death or serious bodily injury, provoked the use of force against himself in the same encounter; or

(ii) the actor knows that he can avoid the necessity of using such force with complete safety by retreating, except the actor is not obliged to retreat from his dwelling or place of work, unless he was the initial aggressor or is assailed in his place of work by another person whose place of work the actor knows it to be.

(2.1) Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (2.2), an actor is presumed to have a reasonable belief that deadly force is immediately necessary to protect himself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat if both of the following conditions exist:

(i) The person against whom the force is used is in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or has unlawfully and forcefully entered and is present within, a dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle; or the person against whom the force is used is or is attempting to unlawfully and forcefully remove another against that other’s will from the dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle.

(ii) The actor knows or has reason to believe that the unlawful and forceful entry or act is occurring or has occurred.

(2.2) The presumption set forth in paragraph (2.1) does not apply if:

(i) the person against whom the force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence or vehicle, such as an owner or lessee;

(ii) the person sought to be removed is a child or grandchild or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of the person against whom the protective force is used;

(iii) the actor is engaged in a criminal activity or is using the dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle to further a criminal activity; or

(iv) the person against whom the force is used is a peace officer acting in the performance of his official duties and the actor using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a peace officer.

(2.3) An actor who is not engaged in a criminal activity, who is not in illegal possession of a firearm and who is attacked in any place where the actor would have a duty to retreat under paragraph (2)(ii) has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground and use force, including deadly force, if:

(i) the actor has a right to be in the place where he was attacked;

(ii) the actor believes it is immediately necessary to do so to protect himself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse by force or threat; and

(iii) the person against whom the force is used displays or otherwise uses:

(A) a firearm or replica of a firearm as defined in 42 Pa.C.S. § 9712 (relating to sentences for offenses committed with firearms); or

(B) any other weapon readily or apparently capable of lethal use.

(…)

(2.5) Unless one of the exceptions under paragraph (2.2) applies, a person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter an actor’s dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle or removes or attempts to remove another against that other’s will from the actor’s dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit:

(i) an act resulting in death or serious bodily injury; or

(ii) kidnapping or sexual intercourse by force or threat.

(2.6) A public officer justified in using force in the performance of his duties or a person justified in using force in his assistance or a person justified in using force in making an arrest or preventing an escape is not obliged to desist from efforts to perform such duty, effect such arrest or prevent such escape because of resistance or threatened resistance by or on behalf of the person against whom such action is directed.

(3) Except as otherwise required by this subsection, a person employing protective force may estimate the necessity thereof under the circumstances as he believes them to be when the force is used, without retreating, surrendering possession, doing any other act which he has no legal duty to do or abstaining from any lawful action.

(c) Use of confinement as protective force.–The justification afforded by this section extends to the use of confinement as protective force only if the actor takes all reasonable measures to terminate the confinement as soon as he knows that he safely can, unless the person confined has been arrested on a charge of crime.

(d) Definition.–As used in this section, the term “criminal activity” means conduct which is a misdemeanor or felony, is not justifiable under this chapter and is related to the confrontation between an actor and the person against whom force is used.

(June 28, 2011, P.L.48, No.10, eff. 60 days)

2011 Amendment. Act 10 amended subsec. (b) and added subsec. (d). See the preamble to Act 10 in the appendix to this title for special provisions relating to legislative findings.

506. Use of force for the protection of other persons.

(a) General rule.–The use of force upon or toward the person of another is justifiable to protect a third person when:

(1) the actor would be justified under section 505 (relating to use of force in self-protection) in using such force to protect himself against the injury he believes to be threatened to the person whom he seeks to protect;

(2) under the circumstances as the actor believes them to be, the person whom he seeks to protect would be justified in using such protective force; and

(3) the actor believes that his intervention is necessary for the protection of such other person.

(b) Exception.–Notwithstanding subsection (a), the actor is not obliged to retreat to any greater extent than the person whom he seeks to protect.

(June 28, 2011, P.L.48, No.10, eff. 60 days)

2011 Amendment. See the preamble to Act 10 in the appendix to this title for special provisions relating to legislative findings.

507. Use of force for the protection of property.

(a) Use of force justifiable for protection of property.–The use of force upon or toward the person of another is justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary:

(1) to prevent or terminate an unlawful entry or other trespass upon land or a trespass against or the unlawful carrying away of tangible movable property, if such land or movable property is, or is believed by the actor to be, in his possession or in the possession of another person for whose protection he acts; or

(2) to effect an entry or reentry upon land or to retake tangible movable property, if:

(i) the actor believes that he or the person by whose authority he acts or a person from whom he or such other person derives title was unlawfully dispossessed of such land or movable property and is entitled to possession; and

(ii) (A) the force is used immediately or on fresh pursuit after such dispossession; or

(B) the actor believes that the person against whom he uses force has no claim of right to the possession of the property and, in the case of land, the circumstances, as the actor believes them to be, are of such urgency that it would be an exceptional hardship to postpone the entry or reentry until a court order is obtained.

(…)

(c) Limitations on justifiable use of force.–

(1) The use of force is justifiable under this section only if the actor first requests the person against whom such force is used to desist from his interference with the property, unless the actor believes that:

(i) such request would be useless;

(ii) it would be dangerous to himself or another person to make the request; or

(iii) substantial harm will be done to the physical condition of the property which is sought to be protected before the request can effectively be made.

(2) The use of force to prevent or terminate a trespass is not justifiable under this section if the actor knows that the exclusion of the trespasser will expose him to substantial danger of serious bodily injury.

(3) The use of force to prevent an entry or reentry upon land or the recaption of movable property is not justifiable under this section, although the actor believes that such reentry or caption is unlawful, if:

(i) the reentry or recaption is made by or on behalf of a person who was actually dispossessed of the property; and

(ii) it is otherwise justifiable under subsection (a)(2).

(4) (i) The use of deadly force is justifiable under this section if:

(A) there has been an entry into the actor’s dwelling;

(B) the actor neither believes nor has reason to believe that the entry is lawful; and

(C) the actor neither believes nor has reason to believe that force less than deadly force would be adequate to terminate the entry.

(ii) If the conditions of justification provided in subparagraph (i) have not been met, the use of deadly force is not justifiable under this section unless the actor believes that:

(A) the person against whom the force is used is attempting to dispossess him of his dwelling otherwise than under a claim of right to its possession; or

(B) such force is necessary to prevent the commission of a felony in the dwelling.

(…)

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