Person holding down another person that is holding a knife

What Are the Rules for Self-Defense in Pennsylvania?

Allegheny Attorneys at Law, P.C. March 26, 2022

You were involved in a bar brawl and used force to defend yourself. Do your actions amount to self-defense? Are you equally or solely responsible?

Consider another scenario. You’re accosted on a public street by someone who wants your wallet. You fight back, and the other person ends up in the ER. Who’s responsible? What if someone enters your residence for a home invasion and you pull out your revolver and fire away? Is that legal?

These are all legitimate issues that could go either way, and the laws in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as in many other states, require that your “self-defense” be reasonable given the circumstances.

If you’re facing a criminal charge for an act that you believe was done in self-defense in or around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, contact Marc V. Taiani, Esquire and Allegheny Attorneys at Law, P.C.

I have both the experience and the resources to work with you on developing a strong legal case based on self-defense. You don’t need to face penalties and a criminal record for protecting yourself or your loved ones from the actions of another. I will aggressively protect and assert your rights under the law.

What Is Self-Defense Under Pennsylvania Law?

Pennsylvania law states: “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.”

However, the statute goes on to list instances when self-defense is not justified:

  • When resisting arrest, even if the arrest is unlawful

  • Using deadly force when non-lethal force would suffice

  • Using deadly force after provoking the initial use of force

  • Using deadly force when it is possible to retreat safely

Using Self-Defense as a Defense Against a Criminal Charge

If you’ve injured or killed someone and are asserting it was done in self-defense, there are several factors that you must prove in court. These elements are:

BELIEF: You must have believed at the moment of confrontation that you were in imminent danger of being harmed.

IMMEDIATE NECESSITY: You must also have believed that your own use of force was “immediately necessary” and that you could not retreat to safety.

UNLAWFUL FORCE: The threat confronting you must have consisted of the use of unlawful force. If a law enforcement official was using lawful force, you cannot have resisted with force of your own.

PRESENT OCCASION: The fear of harm must have existed in the “present occasion.” In other words, it cannot have stemmed from a previous threat or attack, but must have been evident at that very moment.

PROPORTIONAL RESPONSE: The degree of force you used in self-defense must have been proportionate to the level of the perceived threat. If someone pushed you or took a swing at you, you cannot have pulled out a knife and stabbed the person or used a firearm to wound or kill the person. That would not be proportionate.

Stand Your Ground and the Castle Doctrine

Pennsylvania does not have a direct “stand your ground” law, but it recognizes the “castle doctrine,” which is similar. This law allows you to use force without first having to retreat from imminent danger if you're at home, in your car, or at your workplace.

The castle doctrine is an iteration and application of the belief that “one’s home is one’s castle.” The castle doctrine does not apply if you are the initial aggressor, however.

Don’t Risk Your Future. Call Today.

If you or a loved one has been involved in a self-defense situation and you’re being investigated or charged with a crime, contact me immediately at Marc V. Taiani, Esquire and Allegheny Attorneys at Law, P.C. I will listen to your story, investigate, and develop a strong defensive stance aimed at the best possible outcome.

I proudly serve clients in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and in all neighboring communities, including Shaler Township, Fox Chapel, Penn Hills, Oakmont Borough, Aspinwall, and O’Hara Township.