Pennsylvania takes another shot at expanding the Castle Doctrine

Last year this blog posted about Governor Rendell’s refusal to expand the Castle Doctrine outside an actor’s residence. On June 20, 2011, the Pennsylvania Senate gave Governor Corbett another crack at the law.  Senate Bill 273 addresses the law surrounding justifiable self-defense.

The current self-defense law imposes a duty to retreat, if retreat can safely be accomplished.  However, even under the current law there is an exception when the person acting in self-defense is in their own home.  The reason for this exception is that when one retreats, one retreats to their home.  However, the Castle Doctrine acknowledges that when a person is attacked in their home or when their home is unlawfully entered, a requirement to retreat may avoid escalation to violence but is substantively unreasonable because it would require asking a citizen to leave their home in the face of criminal activity.

Senate Bill 273, which Governor Corbett has indicated he will sign into law, expands this doctrine outside the home and eliminates the duty to retreat for victims of attacks where:

(2.3) An actor who is not engaged in a criminal activity , WHO IS NOT IN ILLEGAL POSSESSION OF A FIREARM and who is attacked in any place where the actor would have a duty to retreat under paragraph (2)(ii) , has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground and use force, including deadly force, if :
(i) the actor has a right to be in the place where
he was attacked;
(ii) the actor believes it is immediately necessary
to do so to protect himself against death, serious bodily
injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse by force or
threat; and
(iii) the person against whom the force is used
displays or otherwise uses:
(A) a firearm or replica of a firearm as defined
in 42 Pa.C.S. § 9712 (relating to sentences for
offenses committed with firearms); or
(B) any other weapon readily or apparently
capable of lethal use.

Although the recently passed bill contains a modification that makes the expansion inapplicable to actors who unlawfully possess a weapon at the time of the incident, the effect of the law is substantially the same as the law which Governor Rendell rejected.  Opponents of the new law fear that it will escalate violence while hampering prosecutors.  These concerns led to many District Attorneys opposing the bill.
Read the amended bill here.

Read last year’s post here.

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