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When Can You Claim Self-Defense in Pennsylvania?

In the state of Pennsylvania, you have the right to defend yourself against certain threats that you face. You may even use a weapon, and sometimes use deadly force when it is justifiable for you to do so.  There are laws that establish when you are allowed to claim self-defense.  

If you do act to defend yourself, police will investigate the shooting or other actions you have taken to ensure that your behavior was justified. You may wish to be represented by an attorney during this investigation.  In some cases, people who acted in their own defense, or in defense of others, will actually end up facing criminal charges. If you are charged, you need a lawyer to defend yourself so you can try to avoid conviction.

Unfortunately, many innocent people end up spending a lot of money on legal defense. Homeowner's insurance and most other kinds of standard insurance policies don't typically pay to defend you or cover your legal costs if you act in justifiable self-defense. You can, however, purchase self-defense liability insurance. This type of policy can reimburse your criminal defense costs if you are acquitted and can help you to pay for the costs of legal fees to defend against any civil claims against you.

Self-defense is justified in circumstances where your behavior was in accordance with Pennsylvania law. Pennsylvania has "stand your ground," laws, which are laws that make it clear you do not have a duty to retreat if you are under threat. In some states, you are only allowed to defend yourself if there is no way to escape from the threat that would justify your actions.

Pennsylvania's laws are found in 18 PA consolidated statutes 505(b)(2.3). Under the law, the use of force against another person is justifiable if the person who acts in self-defense believe that the use of force is: "immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion."

There are some limited exceptions to this basic rule. For example, you are not allowed to use force to defend against force that you provoked with your own conduct if your original conduct justified the other person acting against you. The statute outlines the situations where the use of force may not be justified.

It is up to you to prove that you acted in accordance with the law so you can avoid being charged by a prosecutor or so you can convince the court to acquit you if the prosecutor brings charges against you in a criminal case.

You should have an attorney representing you when you talk with police or prosecutors and you should definitely have a criminal defense lawyer if a prosecutor brings charges against you.  If you have purchased self-defense liability insurance, your insurer should hopefully cover your costs to defend your freedom after a justifiable act of self-defense.

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