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. I’ve talked to several policemen over the years that basically said that if you shot a buglar in PA don’t let him get out the front door! This was due to prosecution of homeowners defending their property and the “lawyers” claiming that the “victim” was the bugular since they were attempting to “leave” the property. The new law sends the message to the criminals that they or their families won’t get to “bring suit” on the owner for defending their property! I truly believe the lawmakers passed this law to rein in the legal process that had been subverted to the use of the criminals!

  2. Well put, Tom. I agree 100% I would also agree with John about the town of Kennesaw. The criminals have the right to shoot at will. We legal gun owners should at least have the right to defend our homes, families and property from them.

  3. Addiction Analyst QUOTE “In my many years of owning a home, I have never had to defend it from the trespasses of others”

    I have.

    And let me tell ya, when you have a couple guys trying to break into your bedroom window in the wee hours of the morning, that 41mag gives you a real sense of security, knowing that I don’t have to phone for the cops and wait for them to show up later…maybe after we’re dead.

  4. In March 1982, 25 years ago, the small town of Kennesaw – responding to a handgun ban in Morton Grove, Ill. – unanimously passed an ordinance requiring each head of household to own and maintain a gun. Since then, despite dire predictions of “Wild West” showdowns and increased violence and accidents, not a single resident has been involved in a fatal shooting – as a victim, attacker or defender.

  5. I don’t have a problem with shooting burglars.

    Whether it be as they are climbing in through the window or shooting them in the back as they are 50 yards down the road, running off with my toaster (or even empty handed).

    It is quite wrong to have sympathy for these people.

    I suggest a web search for the Tony Martin case that caused a lot of anger in the UK some years ago.

  6. I believe with “castle doctrine” laws they are merely trying to codify a per say presumption that there is an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm when someone breaks into your home.

    A friend of mine who was a NYPD cop told me in his department they had a saying about situations that where they might need to use a firearm “better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6.”

    In a perfect world each and every time someone tried to commit a violent crime, they would themselves be shot by their chosen victim. Fear should be in the hearts of criminals, not good people. If the net result of this law is more criminals being shot and killed… I would say it’s a good law.

  7. lottakatz,

    I’m not sure what you mean by “These people need a Castle Doctrine”.

    Are you suggesting that the homeowners should be using lethal force to defend their homes from being blown up?

  8. These people need a Castle Doctrine.

    “To Save Lives, NATO Is Razing Booby-Trapped Afghan Homes”

    *But they’re not searching the houses they raze to see if the houses are booby-trapped because it’s dangerous. Right. We have entered the “destroy the village to save it” period of the war. The homes are empty because many of the people are refugees and are living with relatives until the fighting in/near their villages dies down.*

  9. I think most people do not know exactly how and in what situations the use of force is legal, and to the extent a state legislature can help clarify and make it easier for police, prosecutors, and the court to understand and apply the law, and for defense attorneys to raise that defense, and allow for swifter and more predictable outcomes, that is a good thing. Unfortunately though, the PA law does none of that–it is simply political pandering.

  10. I’d just like to say that the combination my medication, lack of sleep, the several burger related threads lead me to read that as “Pennsylavnia Passes New White Castle Law.”

  11. Really? It is common for criminal statutes to contain so much rhetorical blather?

    Also, the references to “vehicle” sound potentially scary! If a pedestrian yells at me while I’m riding my bicycle (with a gun, of course) and then approaches me still yelling, I get to shoot that person? Who really thinks that’s a good idea?

  12. “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.
    Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797), “A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful”, 1756″

  13. Does this mean that when process servers or bank employees come to repossess the house I’ve stopped making payments on, I can shoot them?

    Joke! I moved out of the U.S. in 2005, thank FSM, and I rent here. But I want to see the gunnutz start using their metal penises to defend their homes from the people most likely to rob them, bankmaggots, instead of the imaginary mobs of inner-city criminals they wish they could kill. Are you gonna murder the deputy sheriff who’s coming to make you homeless, Mr. and Mrs. Teabagger?

  14. In my many years of owning a home, I have never had to defend it from the trespasses of others and if I did, I am sure that I would need an attorney to be sure that I was okay doing so.

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