We have long followed trend toward “Make My Day” and “Make My Day Better” laws (also known as “Castle Doctrine” laws) allowing homeowners to kill anyone who invades their homes (here). Some of us have been very critical of these laws as unnecessary and based on a misrepresentation of both the criminal and common law. Citizens are being told that they could be sued for defending their homes from invaders. Now politicians in Pennsylvania have latched on a new gimmick: a law called “stand your ground” that allows people to use lethal force to defend their homes from the outside.
Legislators voted 4-1 in favor of the law allowing people to use lethal force to defend themselves without retreat. Rep. Michelle Brooks, R-Mercer County insists “Law abiding citizens have a right to protect their property and their families. We have to send a strong message to criminals that ‘if you break the law we are going to defend ourselves.’” The problem is that you already have a right to defend yourself. The common law does not require that you retreat when faced with a threat. You need only use a commensurate level of force. This law blurs the lines with commensurate force and appears to replicate the problems in the “Castle Doctrine” laws — encouraging people to shoot first and ask questions later (here).
The law states “no person should be required to surrender his or her personal safety to a criminal, nor should a person be required to needlessly retreat in the face of intrusion or attack outside the person’s home or vehicle.” This is already the law. It suggests that the current law requires that a person “surrender his or her personal safety to a criminal” which is absurd. Moreover, no law requires a person to “retreat in the face of intrusion or attack.”
Here is the language:
The General Assembly finds that:
(1) It is proper for law-abiding people to protect
themselves, their families and others from intruders and
attackers without fear of prosecution or civil action for
acting in defense of themselves and others.
(2) The Castle Doctrine is a common law doctrine of
ancient origins which declares that a home is a person’s
(3) Section 21 of Article I of the Constitution of
Pennsylvania guarantees that the “right of the citizens to
bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be
(4) Persons residing in or visiting this Commonwealth
have a right to expect to remain unmolested within their
homes or vehicles.
(5) No person should be required to surrender his or her
personal safety to a criminal, nor should a person be
required to needlessly retreat in the face of intrusion or
attack outside the person’s home or vehicle.
The statement on the Castle Doctrine is also misleading. This appears to refer to the old adage that “a man’s home is his castle,” which is not a common law doctrine of criminal law or torts but rather an aspirational statement. The Castle Doctrine is a generally a reference to the modern trend of legislatively empowering homeowners to use lethal force solely on the basis of a home invasion.
Under the common law, there was not “fear of prosecution or civil action for
acting in defense of themselves and others” so long as you acted in reasonable self-defense or even “reasonable mistaken self-defense.” In the case of Courvoisier v. Raymond, 23 Colo. 113 (1896), where a man chased a group out of his home only to fire when a man approached him outside his home from the stone-throwing mob. It turned out to be a deputy sheriff but the court found that Courvoisier could rely on reasonable mistaken self-defense.
The Pennsylvania law is so vague and ambiguous it is difficult to understand how the drafters specifically intend to alter the criminal code or tort law. What it suggests is that citizens are now empowered to have more ability to use lethal force that current exists under the criminal code or tort law. That is a dangerous notion.
The reference to defense outside of the house suggests the same presumption of self-defense would apply. Some states under “Make My Day Better Laws” have extended such presumptions to auto thefts and even business invasions.
The law is awaiting the governor’s signature.
Source: Pittsburgh Live