Expanding Stand Your Ground

The Issue

Like many states, Pennsylvania has a “Stand your Ground” law — also known as a “Shoot First” law — that expands the right to use lethal force in self-defense. There are dangerous efforts to expand this right even further.

 

The Facts

In 2011, Pennsylvania amended its traditional law of self-defense, including the “Castle Doctrine” that governed the use of deadly force in cases of self-defense in one’s home, to include a so-called “Stand Your Ground” or “Shoot First” provision. Under traditional self-defense doctrines, one cannot resort to the use of deadly force in defense unless they have first tried unsuccessfully to retreat, or remove themselves from the situation. Under the Castle Doctrine, the duty to retreat did not apply in one’s home (think of the adage “a man’s home is his castle.”) The 2011 amendment expanded the doctrine by removing the duty to retreat when one is outside one’s home, in public places where one has a right to be: “a person in any lawful place outside his home “has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground and use force, including deadly force if . . . (he) believes it is immediately necessary to do so to protect himself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, or sexual intercourse by force or threat.” [18 Pa.C.S. Section 505(b)(2.3)].

The law further provides that in order to be allowed to “stand your ground” instead of retreating, the assailant against whom you are going to use deadly force must have a lethal weapon.

This is a key distinguishing feature in the PA law, one that was inserted as part of a deal with law enforcement entities concerned about Stand Your Ground laws.

However, in the past two years, there have been unprecedented efforts in PA to expand the Stand Your Ground Law. This time around, certain legislators are aiming to remove the requirement that the shooter must have at least believed that he/she had seen a gun or other lethal weapon in the victim’s possession prior to using deadly force. Instead, House Bill 167 provides an alleged defense for shooters who feel that there is a “disparity in size” between them and the victim or that they are threatened but outnumbered.

The new factors in which the duty to retreat would be removed would include situations where:

“The person against whom the force is used displays or possesses the physical power, stature or ability to kill or inflict serious bodily injury and the actor believes it is necessary to protect himself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse by force or threat. [or] The persons against whom the force is used outnumber the actor such that he reasonably fears death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse by force or threat.”

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If these proposed amendments were passed, they would fundamentally alter the nature of the law PA adopted in 2011, and now make it a virtual free-for-all, allowing a shooter to offer an entirely perception-based legal defense with next to no provable, factual elements upon which to base guilt or innocence. Now we really would have a shoot first law–a law that could be used to justify race-based killings and hate-motivated crimes where self-defense was not only not justified, but an actual fallacy.

 

What Can you Do?

Ask your legislators to oppose any expansion of the Stand Your Ground law.