People in Pennsylvania may hear those accused of violent crimes argue that they only acted in self-defense and immediately dismiss such claims. This likely comes from the assumption that a reasonable person should always be able to avoid a situation devolving into a physical alteraction (and if it does, that both involved are at fault). Yet even those skeptics have to admit that there are situations where responding to a threat with force may seem likely the only viable option.

The question then becomes whether state law also shares that same understanding. It indeed does, but only in certain situations.

Defining “the Castle Doctrine”

Most states’ self-defense laws typically draw from one of two different legal philosophies. One is the concept of “Stand Your Ground,” which basically states that one does not have to retreat from any situation in which they feel threatened. The other is “the Castle Doctrine.” Per the National Conference of State Legislatures, this principle relates to “Stand Your Ground,” with the major difference being that one can only react with force in defense of a dwelling in which they are legally entitled to be.

The lawful use of force in Pennsylvania

A close review of Pennsylvania’s self-defense law shows that the state subscribes to the latter principle. Indeed, Section 505 of the state’s Crimes and Offenses Code says that the presumption of fear for the safety of one’s health and personal property (and, by extension, the lawful justification for the use of force) exists when another is unlawfully attempting to enter into (or forcefully remove another from) their residence or personal vehicle. The legal protections provided by this law does not exist, however, in situations where one acts against another who has a right to be in the dwelling, or against a peace officer attempting to perform their duties.