Does PA Allow You to Claim Self-Defense When Charged with Homicide?

by | Oct 18, 2022

Yes, PA allows you to claim self-defense when charged with homicide. However, it only works if your actions were reasonable for the given circumstances. The law states that you can apply this defense if you believed the deadly force that cause the homicide was necessary to protect against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, or rape.

Self-defense claims in PA do not apply to every situation. You will also hold the burden of proof when raising self-defense claims by proving several vital elements. As such, you will need legal resources to investigate the facts and preserve evidence that speaks to the circumstances.

In This Article

The Philadelphia homicide defense attorneys at Shuttleworth Law discuss when self-defense claims are permissible in court, how to build a two-part self-defense claim, when you cannot claim self-defense, and where you can get a free case evaluation about using a self-defense claim or any other homicide defense.

When Self-Defense Claims Are Permissible

The Pennsylvania Crimes Code formally recognize situations where homicide may have been the only option against a severe threat. Under 18 Pa.C.S. § 505, you have a right to self-protection when using force is justifiable to protect the person or self against:

  • Death
  • Kidnap
  • Rape
  • Serious bodily harm

The general rule is that deadly force is unnecessary if you could have avoided the threat by retreating. However, as outlined in the same statute, you do not need to meet this duty in specific situations. The strategy used for your personalized defense will ultimately depend upon the outcome of a full, independent investigation of the facts and available evidence.

Claiming Self-Defense: It’s the Defendant’s Burden to Prove It

.Self-defense is what the law calls an affirmative defense. It demonstrates that you were justified in using deadly force to protect yourself.Your defense attorney will need to raise self-defense as an affirmative defense on your behalf and bring out facts that prove it.. Therefore, you must be aware of what this strategy implies and how it could affect your case in the future.

Below, we have outlined how this process works:

An Affirmative Defense

Claiming self-defense is what the law calls an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense is based on facts that differ from the Commonwealth prosecutor’s allegations. It can excuse you from criminal liability when executed successfully but may require you to admit to facts that affect your legal rights.

Affirmative defenses place the burden on you to prove certain elements. It also means that you admit to using deadly force against the other person. Due to the serious implication of such an admission, you should seek legal advice from a homicide defense lawyer in Pennsylvania before doing so.

Proving the Justification of Self-Defense

Self-defense is a type of justification defense. Justification defenses excuse you from criminal liability if you can prove that your actions were justified for the circumstances.

When claiming self-defense in a homicide case, you will need to prove the four following elements with admissible evidence:

  • Element 1. Reasonable Belief of Immediate Danger: You had reason to believe that your life was in immediate danger. For example, someone was pointing a gun at you unexpectedly.
  • Element 2. Quick Action Was Necessary: The next element is that the danger made it immediately necessary foryou to use deadly force.
  • Element 3. Force Was Used Against You:  Self-defense claims only work if you face unlawful force from the other person. For example, a kidnapper tried pushing you into a vehicle.
  • Element 4. Present Force: Self-defense requires focusing on the circumstances at the time of the homicide and not on past events. If you had enough time to cool down or file a police report, you most likely did not act in self-defense.

Laws also allow you to use self-defense claims when protecting the lives of others. If you are justified in the level of force used, you can also raise self-defense as a justifiable homicide case. The only difference is that you must prove that intervention was necessary to protect them from death, kidnapping, rape, or serious bodily harm.

Related Article: Can the Philadelphia Police Lie to You?

PA Laws Limit Situations Where You Can Use Force

PA imposes limitations on using deadly force. You cannot use force justifiably if you are resisting arrest by a police officer, even if unlawful, or to resist force by the occupier of property when you know that the person is doing so under a claim of right to protect the property. Even if prosecutors claim your case falls under these circumstances, speak with a criminal defense attorney about devising alternative case theories.

Related Article: Is Manslaughter a Felony in Pennsylvania?

This article only presents the tip of the iceberg when it comes to self-defense when deadly force has been used in a homicide. The decisions you make, from the initial investigation to your time in court, will affect the outcome of your case. As such, you should approach the process delicately and only under the guidance of a PA homicide defense lawyer. If you have a defensible case, you should fight your charges as aggressively as possible to avoid jail time, fines, and other losses associated with a violent felony conviction.

You are not responsible for penalties associated with a crime you did not commit or that remains unproven by Commonwealth prosecutors. Speak with a homicide defense law firm in PA with experience, results, and the ability to fight for as much control over your situation as possible. These qualities can provide you with reassurance and peace of mind as you endure the legal process under the guidance of ongoing counsel and advice.

Call Shuttleworth Law for My Free Case Evaluation

The Philadelphia homicide defense attorneys have the legal resources, knowledge, and abilities necessary when raising a self-defense claim. We will complete an exhaustive investigation to defend against an outcome you do not deserve under the law. Call Shuttleworth Law to schedule your Free Case Evaluation by calling (215) 774-1371 or messaging us online.

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