Self-defense is one of the most powerful and most controversial defenses available to people who have been accused of homicide. A recent case involving a Pennsylvania gun shop owner helps illustrate some of the issues involved.
According to a news report, the store owner fired at four people who allegedly broke into a Philadephia building and were making their way up the stairs to the second floor. The owner, who was on the second floor, killed one man and injured another. The three survivors among the alleged burglars fled the premises. One later sought medical treatment for a gunshot wound.
Police later arrested the trio. At least one has been charged with robbery, burglary and other crimes. He is only 17 years old.
After filing charges against the 17-year-old, District Attorney Larry Krasner told reporters he did not intend to file charges against the store owner. Krasner said the man’s actions were consistent with self defense.
Under the laws of every state, people are allowed to use deadly force to protect themselves from harm under some circumstances, but the precise details of these circumstances can vary widely from state to state. In many states, people can claim self-defense after using deadly force only if they were themselves threatened with deadly force, and only if they did not have a realistic option of escape.
Pennsylvania law expands on this definition of self-defense by following something known as the Castle Doctrine. Under this view of self-defense, people in their own homes can use deadly force to protect themselves if they reasonably fear that deadly force would be used against them. In other words, the court does not need to consider the possibility of escape if the person claims to have used self-defense against the threat of deadly force against them in their own home.
A claim of self-defense is one of the most powerful ways to defend against violent crime charges, but it is not foolproof, and it is not the only way to beat these charges. A skilled criminal defense lawyer can help people understand their options to defend their rights.