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Can you use deadly force?

You have a gun to protect yourself, your family and your property, so it only stands to reason that the law should allow you to use it for that purpose. Although this seemingly common-sense conclusion is not actually the case in many states, in Pennsylvania, legislators agree that you have a right to stand your ground. However, you could be facing a weapons charge or worse if you cannot answer the following questions the right way:

Are you in danger?

Under the law, you have to believe that deadly force is the only way you can escape being raped, killed, kidnapped or seriously injured. Even if you are under a direct threat, you could still be convicted for hurting or killing someone if the court rules that you were responsible for provoking that person, and he or she immediately came after you. If the alleged provocation came at an earlier date, it may not be relevant to your case, and this provision of the law does not apply.

It is typically considered reasonable to believe that you are in serious danger if someone is breaking into your house or vehicle. But, if the person has custody or legal right to remove a child from your residence and is doing so, you cannot use force against him or her to prevent it from happening.

Who is threatening you?

Although you may believe that someone is threatening your life or well-being, you do not have the right to use force if he or she is a law enforcement officer who is placing you under arrest, even when it is not a lawful arrest. If you know or should have known that someone is a police officer, you are not justified in using force.

You also may not use force in defense against someone who owns the property, home or vehicle in question and is threatening force against you. This applies to renters, residents, and lessees, too, as they have the legal right to be there.

Are you doing something illegal?

If you are defending yourself with deadly force while in the course of doing something that is against the law or in defending a home or vehicle that is being used in criminal activity, you may be facing more serious charges. Because of the number of factors that may contribute to the situation, many of these "stand your ground" cases become very complex. Seeking the assistance of a criminal law attorney who understands Pennsylvania's statutes regarding the use of justifiable force in self-defense may be your best chance of avoiding a criminal conviction.