Pennsylvania Passes New Castle Doctrine Law

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

57 thoughts on “Pennsylvania Passes New Castle Doctrine Law

  1. Ben D:

    You were justified in using deadly force or the threat thereof in defending yourself from four guys with baseball bats. The problem with the castle law is that some try to use it to justify picking off 11 year olds playing in their front yard* without permission or 7 year olds “trespassing” on their property.**The rights you demand here, you’ve always had. You just got hyped in believing you didn’t.




  2. I love this law, and anyone thats against it has never been robbed. so if your against it go hug a tree, as i reload.

  3. I havehad firearms pointed at me on my own property, fortunately they never pulled the trigger or I wouldn’t have the opportunity to say my peace now. Tom Colbert needs to just once be in my position, THEN maybe he would have no problem passing this law.

  4. Wow some people are fucking stupid use your head if u need to protect yourself then do it if u don’t need to then don’t god it’s not a hard task to follow

  5. Do any of you even know what self Defense is…. I see comments of if I’m in my car and someone is yelling, I can shoot them…. Are you f-ing kidding me…. That right there is why they have back ground checks when buying a pistol…. Use your head…. If u think that someone is going to harm you/family whether in your house… Car… Or just walking around… You can choose to defend your self… As long as you use a reasonable amount of force… Meaning if you knock the guy to the ground… You can’t continue to beat him up…. But if u happen to shoot him three times in the chest and he dies… Well then oh well…

  6. this may be a good law for the Law abiding people, but if the person that claims self defense isn’t law abiding and can claim it, it’s murder, when the person is drunk and has a club and you stand on your porch with a loaded bow and arrow and you could of aimed to detain them and instead you aim and hit them in the heart and kill them, it’s wrong. especially when there is more to the case than actually comes out because it seems covered up. If it’s your family member that got killed from the person claiming self defense and you know a lot more about it than the cops are allowing to be told and won’t talk to you about the case, somethings wrong with this law. I lost all faith in the justice system when my brother was killed in a case with the man being able to claim this.

  7. Governor Rendell vote YES to allowing the good people to bear arms to protect themselves and their families. It’s the right thing to do. My bet is that the crime rate will be halted.

  8. Everyone ought to be able to protect his life, his family, his home. One of the responsibilities that goes along with being an armed citizen willing to defend himself is assuring that he has adequate training to respond appropriately. I recommend that all gun owners take more than just the minimal gun safety courses required by law.

  9. I have no problem with a person being able to defend themselves. I do have a problem with the laws in PA that don’t allow us the ability to head off escalation that could lead to situations. More often than not, the people defending themselves, such as the man who used a bow and arrow to kill a romantic rival back in January, know the person they are being threatened by. They know these people are a threat to them.

    Unfortunately, in PA we’re not allowed to record calls without the informed consent of the other party/parties to the call. What party who is a threat is going to consent to having their conversation recorded? If we could record our calls without such consent, we can gather evidence and go to the police or the courts and, more often than not, head off such escalation.

    There is one of two, or possibly both things going on in our GOP dominated state legislature. The first is that it’s loaded down with bloodthirsty redneck hicks. The other is they have something to fear from their own calls being recorded. What might they be doing that they have to worry about their own calls being recorded?

    41 states allow recording of conversations without the consent of other parties to the call. They poured over the pros and cons of allowing the public to gather evidence of such things as transaction negotiations and agreements, harassment, threats, criminal activity, etc. They far outnumber the states that don’t allow such recording. There must be legitimate reasons so many states allow it. It’s now more important that the public have this ability in PA now that we also have this expanded Castle Doctrine.

  10. if im 16 and someone threatens to come to my house and knock me out is it legal to use force like a bat or something because he is 19 and i want to know what all ways i can defend myself

  11. Aaron,
    This is basic common sense, and not legal advice: In order to use a weapon defensively, do not do so unless your house (castle) is invaded. You cannot get into an altercation on a street corner and take a bat to a guy because he makes a threat. You could end up in jail with charges against you that could range from assault and battery to murder, depending on how you hit him with a weapon. If he actually comes to your house and breaks in with idea of doing you bodily harm, then you have a right to defend yourself.

    If you are looking for specific legal advice, you need to talk to a local lawyer. If the threat to you is specific enough, and serious enough, the lawyer might tell you how to get a restraining order against the older boy. Talk to your parents about letting you get legal advice. Sometimes parents who don’t know the law give not so good advice that could get you into legal trouble.

  12. Otteray Scribe,
    i was asking if he came to my house to knock me out but thanks ill go to a lawyer and try asking but thank you for the help

  13. In the areas that people have ccw permits and laws such as this one, the crime rates go down. It’s a fact. And it’s because criminals know that people aren’t just potential victims anymore. A gun for home protection should be considered a means of stopping a problem before it escalates. For instance, you must first identify the intruder and say stop or I’ll shoot. That’s what police say if a criminal is armed. And most importantly that will eliminate the chance of someone getting hurt that isn’t armed. Or someone that is mistaken for an intruder. First time gun owners need to take self defense and gun safety classes so that they are comfortable and safe with a gun. Or else accidents can happen. Or you may not be able to hit the broad side of a barn with a fire arm. Aside from all that shooting sports are allot of fun for the whole family. Remember though led is poisonous, and it should not come in contact with your skin. Nor should a trap be cleaned out without the proper suit and respirator.

  14. I lived in Vermont. Brattleboro to be exact. We had open carry laws IE: anyone can carry concealed and lawfully without a permit. Since it is an open carry state and All criminals know it there was hardly Any crime. People were extremely polite even to the homeless and only one death occurred in the 15+ years I lived there… By the way the man was killed with a pocket knife Not a gun and yes it was self defense. I’ve also lived in Florida and when the I feel threatened law went into place, because of criminals turning to leave so as not to be shot while pulling a gun from the front of their pants so as to kill the homeowner, crime went down. When the law says that you Must take action with a firearm if you have one while witnessing a felony well… Felonys kinda stop, especially when they know everyone is armed. Growing up in philly I’ve been jumped by groups of people, shot over a radio and seen to many crappy things happen to good people to be so enchanted as to believe people are basically good that’s crap. Giving people in the public the right to defend themselves and others without fear of prosecution works. Period. It’s when we start to disarm our citizens or scare them into not protecting themselves that we have a problem because at that point only those who don’t give a crap about the law (criminals) are armed and know it. Believe me when I tell you they will use Any advantage they can. If we take all firearms from our citizens what is to stop our criminal society from saying “I’ll be raping your wife and daughter now… Oh and if you identify me to the cops or even think of describing me I’ll be back to kill them next time!” Seeing as they will be the only ones armed how do you respond to that? Wait for the cops afterwards? Then what tell them all about it so it happens again? Then wait for the cops again? No. In order to have a free state and a non tyrannical government it is nessiccery to have an armed populous that’s all there is too it. Well there’s my 2cents bash away.

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