Pennsylvania is a state that is fairly infamous for wordy, lengthy, and generally confusing statutes. Concerning self-defense, Pennsylvania certainly does not disappoint in this regard!
Happily, Pennsylvania does have laws on the books governing citizens’ rights to self-defense in the affirmative, and even more cause for celebration they also feature fairly sturdy stand-your-ground statutes.
The bad news, though, is they are worded in such a circuitous way you can hardly be blamed for feeling confused as to what is and is not allowed under them.
Have no fear, because we are here to interpret for you. In the rest of this article we will provide you with a straight explanation of Pennsylvania’s self-defense laws including their stand-your-ground provisions.
At the end of this article you will find the most relevant state statutes on the topic presented with their exact wording taken straight from the state law.
What You Need to Know
- The basis of Pennsylvania self-defense law is that a defender may use force in defense to prevent the unlawful use of force against them by another person in the present instance only.
- Lethal force may be used in defense so long as it is being used to prevent the threat of death or serious bodily injury, carjacking, kidnapping or rape.
- The Pennsylvania statutes contain quite a few exceptions to the use of force in defense and lethal force in particular. Make sure you learn and understand them!
Pennsylvania law provides that citizens may use force in self-defense up to and including deadly force so long as they are doing so in response to a threat of death or great bodily injury against themselves or someone else.
The threat of death or great bodily injury must be imminent, and the defender must believe that the use of deadly force is immediately necessary to prevent said death or injury at the hands of the attacker.
Deadly force may also be used to prevent a few forcible felonies, namely kidnapping and rape, which the state, defines as sexual intercourse under threat.
It is additionally presumed by the state that the defender has a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury so long as they are in a dwelling or vehicle, and the person against whom the deadly force is used (attacker) is in the process of forcibly entering or has already forcibly entered the dwelling or the vehicle or is attempting to remove the defender or someone else from the dwelling or the vehicle and the defender believes that the act is currently ongoing.
In essence, force and deadly force in particular may only be used in defense when the defender is countering an immediate, imminent and ongoing threat of great bodily injury or death, or a threat of kidnap, carjack or rape.
A person who would ostensibly use force (and particularly lethal force) in defense may not do so if they are the initial aggressor in the encounter, going to use force against a peace officer or doing so against someone who is entering a property that they have a legal, lawful claim to.
Additionally, they may not stand their ground against anyone who is threatening them while inside any place that they have a legal, lawful right to be so long as they are not acting unlawfully from the outset. In the latter case a duty to retreat does exist.
Pennsylvania’s laws are long, challenging and occasionally perplexing. Don’t despair; take the time to read through them with the benefit of this guide and go over them several times until the concepts presented start to gel.
The Pennsylvania state laws concerning self-defense and their stand your ground statute are, in actuality, very reasonable, but you might not get that impression initially thanks to the overlong wording of the laws in the books.
Relevant Pennsylvania Use of Force Statutes
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.