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. Thanks god for this. I am not a tea party member whatsoever. I am a 25 year old grad student. Violent crime is up and I refuse to become a victim. People in my life who were not prepared have become victims. I live in a decent middle class area in Altoona, Pa. We have had several break-ins the past few years. An old man was mugged and beaten. A college professor from PSU Altoona was attacked and hospitalized. I stopped four men “college students acutally” who were carrying bats in my front yard. They were drunk and had the intention of smashing the windows out of my home. It was RUSH week for their frat house. This was a requirement for membership. At 5am I seen a car pull up and they jumped out of the car walking to the side of my house. I confronted them with my handgun. I had surgery a few days before and was in no mood to be attacked by drunk knuckle draggers with bats. They looked at me like I was insane for defending my home and family. The one man even threatend to kill me for confronting him. I had my tac-light on and laser pointed to the middle of his chest. They were drunk and belligerent. They finally backed off. The campus police caught them. They were thrown out of school. Was I wrong for defending my home? I do not think so. No man has the right to tell another man that he/she cannot defend their life or property. This is not a race thing either. Where I live; I have a higher chance of being attacked by a white person than any other race.

    Just look at London. They have no right to bear arms. Shop keepers are holding their doors shut while these kids smash, loot, and burn their way across the city. The victims do not have the right to shoot back ?”if they had the right to have firearms” I am sick of this protectionist society. Throwing a firebomb into my store window is the same as trying to murder me. I have the god given right to protect what is mine without the fear of being prosecuted by the law or the criminal.

  2. Bottom Line here is that not even the Bible tells us that we should allow ourselves to be raped,robbed or victimized in any way,shape or form.I am a God fearing man but does that mean that if anybody tries to break into my house that I should just surrender without a fight?I really don’t think so!!!I was raised to help others and to treat people with due consideration and respect but guess what?If anybody is stupid enough to stick their arm/hand into my window if one of my dogs doesn’t get that arm/hand then the person sticking their arm/hand through my window stands a very good chance of getting that arm/handed chopped the hell off,that’s all there is to it.Let anybody try to attack or rob a police officer and lets see if the police officer isn’t going to respond with deadly force if said police officer is forced to do so.We all know that we should never under any circumstance put our hands or fingers anywhere near a table saw blade or any other type of machinery when the table saw blade or machinery is running right?Because if we put any of our hands or fingers anywhere too near to a table saw blade or machinery when it’s running there’s a very good chance that we may come away with a hand or several fingers missing right?The moral of my story is that if you don’t respect other people’s property and you go breaking into or sticking your hands and/or fingers where they don’t belong then don’t complain when you suffer the consequences,that’s all.It’s very unfortunate but there are people among us who do not value life and do not have any morals or so much as good judgement and common sense,if a person gets drunk then drives and that person kills others the law doesn’t want to hear about “Oh,my life is so terrible and my job totally blows so after work I decided to have a few drinks,you know,just to take the edge off,but I didn’t mean to run over and kill anybody.”,oh no,that’s no kind of excuse for getting loaded and then driving,so if a person got shot,lost an arm or what ever for being stupid enough to try to violate other people’s property or break in then “Oh Well!!!”.You bleeding heart liberals out there try this,go to the zoo and see the beautiful majestic lion in his cage alright?Then try to stick your hand in that lion’s cage and see if that lion doesn’t tear it clean off,in other words if you keep your hands and your body out of where those things don’t belong then you have nothing to worry about,because just as a lion can’t be faulted for protecting itself we as law abiding citizens should also be free from prosecution if we’re forced to defend ourselves,our loved ones and our property from invasion.Nobody should ever have to worry about hurting or shooting another person in self defense,but the reality is that that sometimes happens and we must defend and protect ourselves regardless of whether we like it or not because while you may hesitate to shoot or hurt a criminal rest assured that a criminal will drop you and kill you in a heart beat if given half the chance and won’t lose any sleep over it either.

  3. Has anyone gotten a load of the latest “Fad” among criminals?The criminals call their latest “Fad” “Home Invasions”,why are the criminals so bold as to strike with their latest “Fad” the “Home Invasion”?it’s quite simple actually,criminals are getting into their latest “Fad” the “Home Invasion” even in broad daylight because criminals know that most of us are law abiding citizens and as such we tend not to own/carry fire arms when ever the law forbids us to do so making us “easy pickings’ “,and that being the case the criminals take full advantage of us with the utmost impunity.Now let’s take a look at this scenario,would a criminal even think of pulling a “Home Invasion” if there was a good chance that the intended victim may be well armed with a 12 gauge pump action shot gun and/or a .45 automatic with a full clip and maybe one or two full clips as extras just in case?WHY OF COURSE NOT!!!BECAUSE INTENDED VICTIMS THAT ARE SO WELL ARMED ARE “NO FUN AT ALL TO ROB”,NOT TO MENTION THAT SAID “HOME INVADERS” MAY NOT STAND A VERY GOOD CHANCE AT ALL OF MAKING IT OUT ALIVE!!!CRIMINALS MAY NOT BE THE SMARTEST PEOPLE AROUND BUT THEY’RE NOT THE STUPIDEST PEOPLE AROUND EITHER!!! With that said need I say more on the subject?(smiles)

  4. The bottom line is that anybody that’s desperate enough to break into another person’s house is capable of anything.As for the NAACP they can carry on,cry and scream all they want,if you don’t break the law and you don’t do things that you’re not supposed to then there shouldn’t be any problem.For far too long we’ve been held hostage because of the law favoring and siding with the criminals,enough is enough already.So if anybody breaks into my house I should just cower and run while the intruder takes off with my lock tools and my key cutting machines one of which retails at $2,500.00 and more the last time I checked and the rest of my stuff?Sure,home insurance may or may not pay,but regardless who in the hell has any right to take and deprive me of things that I’ve worked so hard and sacrificed for?Get real people.Even a person that’s illiterate should be able to tell that locked doors and locked gates with signs on them that have big red letters on a black background means that they should stay out.Gee,if a red stop light means that people need to stop and go no further then what in the world can a sign with big red letters on a black background posted on a locked door or gate possibly mean?,Oh my!!!”Excuse me,you that I just caught in my house,are you armed?I need to know before I can go get and load my gun.”,HA!!!!Stop with the nonsense and get real already people.And as for the relatives of the criminals being able to file suit against us as law abiding citizens for having been forced to defend ourselves that’s a really big pile of malarkey too!!!If that’s the case then why doesn’t the law start holding the drug dealers responsible when people get addicted and all strung out on the drugs that they sell and commit crimes and burglaries to sustain their drug habits?Crack/meth addicts have been known to attack and try to rob the very drug dealers that sell them that crap and they’ve also been known to even attack the police,what does that tell us?NAACP my foot!!!

  5. The Castle Doctrine in Pennsylvania? Fantastic. However, Philadelphia alone will demonstrate that exponentially……………..

    Wait for the darling NAACP to start screaming.

  6. I can only add and amplify to those commenters who point out Mr. Turley’s falsities on this matter. I agree with the poster who stated that most folks do not want to have to shoot anyone. In my own home, if I arrived at the tail end of a burglary, I would not shoot the burgler walking out my door with my $3000 flat screen. This is not worth someone’s life. I would call the police. If the item is not recovered, that’s what homeowner’s insurance is for, after all. However, when someone invades my home and they are caught in the process, then they will be shot. How can I have any way of judging intent? I have a wife and two daughters and to the extent that I am able, they will be protected. Mr. Turley is correct in pointing out that the right to defend one’s person and property was already allowed. What Mr. Turley does not point out, is that current law allows me to be civilly sued for damages or death by the person who invaded my home or his relatives. This is absurd. All the proposed law will do is prevent this travesty from occurring. As sorry as I might feel for having shot an unarmed perpetrator entering my home, I should not be held accountable for not knowing that they were unarmed. Mr. Turley’s opinions, in my estimation amount to liberal propaganda spouted in defense of a good trial lawyer being able to extract damages from honest law abiding citizens whose only “crime” was defending their families.

  7. The key issue is that criminal perverts or their survivors can’t bring a civil suit and bankrupt someone who did nothing but protect themselves from the aforementioned pervert.

  8. WHOOOHOOO!!! I am praying that this passes! I have lost so many nights of sleep over a recent uprising in thefts in my neighborhood and from myself . I had installed cameras and caught a group of four last year and two individuals just a few weeks ago. First group I couldn’t recognize, so it was a lost cause…but, the two from the recent theft I recognized immediately. BUT, when the video was turned into police, it was sub-par and couldn’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The clip was in complete darkness with the infrared lights on, but I could still notice certain characteristics…why the police couldn’t is beyond me. These criminals seem to get bolder and bolder…I was in a room about 15 feet from where they where…and a mere two minutes after they were there I went outside, unknowing that I had company. I am waiting every night for a door to come fling open and not knowing if I should grab the wife and jump out a window or pick up the gun and shoot (knowing I would be going to jail!!!). If this law gets signed I personally will be one happy camper….I am so sick of thinking that criminals are being protected by laws.

  9. It seems to me that it’s about time that we law abiding citizens were freed from the bonds of not being able to defend ourselves.I used to live in NYC and there a criminal can sue you and have you brought up on criminal and civil charges if said criminal was hurt in any way for breaking into your house,what kind of cock-and-bull is that?If you want to visit me that’s what my front door and doorbell are for,what?are we to believe that people break into houses to tuck us in and kiss us good night?Kudos to our politicians for fighting to put the law back in the hands of us law abiding citizens where the law belongs.And as for “fleeing” here’s some “food for thought”,how many times have we read and heard about people being shot or stabbed in the back or had their heads cracked open from trying to flee from criminals?Criminals may be far from the smartest people around but I can guarantee you that now that the criminals here in Pennsylvania know that they can no longer get away with breaking into houses or attacking people indiscriminately and with the utmost impunity they’ll think really hard about committing a crime knowing that their intended victims may be armed and that we as law abiding citizens have the full weight and support of the law behind us to defend ourselves,our families and our property.There was a case about an 18 yr old that brutally murdered another man,the 18 yr old was trying to escape from the prison but thank God he was caught before he could make it out.When that 18 yr old was questioned as to what he thought he was doing his reply to authorities was that he planned to escape from prison,avail himself of a gun,rob several people and or several houses then flee the country,yet there are those of you out there that are still against law abiding citizens having the right to defend themselves by any means necessary huh?So if that 18 yr old cold blooded murderer had escaped and killed more people that would’ve been “acceptable”?What planet are you people living on?A lot of you people that wrote here are ridiculous,what?if somebody comes at you with a baseball bat,a tire iron or a pipe?They do that just to get to know you and have coffee or tea with you and maybe a lunch?They pull a knife on you just to show you the workmanship of the company that manufactured that knife?If they broke into your house it was only to admire your tools and your valuables without you knowing about it?It’s not as easy as you people try to make it out to be to mistakenly shoot people,and most and worst of all is the fact that most criminals as a general rule don’t like leaving witnesses that can identify them to law enforcement,in other words WAKE THE HELL UP AND GET REAL PEOPLE!!!WHEN OUR FOUNDING FATHERS WROTE INTO LAW THAT THE RIGHT TO OWN AND BEAR ARMS IN DEFENSE OF OUR COUNTRY,OURSELVES AND OUR PROPERTY SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED UPON THEY KNEW FULL WELL WHAT THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT.MAYBE WE’LL ALL GET LUCKY AND CRIMINALS WILL AGREE TO MAKE APPOINTMENTS WITH US BEFORE THEY ATTACK US OR BREAK INTO OUR HOUSES SO THAT WAY WE HAVE AMPLE TIME TO CALL THE POLICE,UH-HUH,YEAH,OKAY,SIT AND WAIT FOR THAT.

  10. It appears that the author is being somewhat disengenuous with his facts and is just trying to promote a liberal anti-gun ideology here. People have in fact been sucessfully sued for defending themselves in PA with a firearm, by home invaders. A fact that the author does not acknowledge. And for the people who are carrying a weapon with a Pa. permit, the law is important in protecting them from prosecution or civil suit. In the past people were under a myriad of regulations as to what steps they are required to mitigate the situation. Sounds simple but even trained police oficers have a problem understanding and executing these split second life and death situations properly. Now it has been simplified and clearly laid out in plain language. Basically we are only required to rely on what we perceive as reasonable belief that we or our family under imminet threat of death or serious injury, and we are not required to retreat from an area where we have a legal right to be.

  11. Question:
    This may seem silly, but are animals covered in such a law? I have a dog for protection. He will tear an intruder to pieces. Is he covered for protecting his home?
    Just curious…

  12. We will be moving to Pa from San Antonio, TX.

    I have to say I feel much relieved that better clarification of the common law “self defense” statute has been legally purported in the PA “Castle Law”.

    The Castle Law has been in effect in Texas now for a few years, and it has been a quite beneficial to police departments and the court system, e.g. check out:

  13. We have break-ins and burglaries here in Penn Hills almost every day now. The police are overwhelmed and catch few. Nevertheless, neighbors are afraid to shoot back or even consider defending themselves for fear of vague criminal statutes. “Commensurate” is no clear standard for ordinary people. If a burglar has a hammer or a crowbar or a knife or some other potential weapon, is it commensurate to shoot him to protect your children upstairs? Until we no longer need to choose between possible death by home invasion or life in jail, the terror we homeowners in Penn Hills now face will certainly not stop. At some point we just have to know we really can shoot back when the backdoor is kicked down at 2:00 on any given the afternoon.

  14. Turley, why are you quoting laws from other states and trying to claim they apply to PA?

    Here in PA, there is presently a duty to retreat when there is a threat before you may resort to lethal force.

    There is no “commensurate” level of force necessary in self defense presently in PA. If one fears that they are about to be subjected to sexual assault, kidnapping, death, or serious injury and cannot retreat in complete safety, then lethal force is permitted.

    The important thing about the PA castle dotrine that lawmakers were trying to fix is that presently self defense is a justification for lethal force to be used in trial. Thus, people acting in self defense are subjected to arrests and costly trials rather than to be assumed innocent unless the police find a reason to charge them with using force needlessly. It is also intended to protect the victim (the shooter) from civil suits arising from self defense.

  15. Mr. Turley,

    It’s obvious you are clueless when it comes to the real world. In the past I would would never have suggested this but I think experience is the key. I have been there, so I hope you get assulted but survive… But with the scars. (they are not always physical) You will then understand the need to dispatch the criminal(s) with all due force before they can distory or scar a life. Your missguided concern for the criminals has created a new culture in the USA which allows criminals to dominate parts of our cities without any fear that the good and innocent people will get involved. You have no common sense… or sense at all. Your influence is distructive to our country. We know that we don’t use force unless in selfdefense… but the fear to use force in selfdefense has lead to people ignoring crime. Why help? My life will be ruined… should never be a thought… just help or protect. 99.99% of the time it’s the right thing to do…. but your type only looks at the 0.01%… and because of that people say the police are on the way… just wait… I hope they get here before the criminal hurts that guy or girl…

  16. “If there is going to be ambiguity in law, should it not favor the innocent?” (Jeff)


    I think that’s a very fair question

  17. Mr. Turley, I read your bio after the fact, so here’s a more legal response.

    18 Pa.C.S. § 505: Use of force in self-protection

    (2) The use of deadly force is not justifiable under this section unless the actor believes that such force is necessary to protect himself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat; nor is it justifiable if:

    (ii) the actor knows that he can avoid the necessity of using such force with complete safety by retreating or by surrendering possession of a thing to a person asserting a claim of right thereto or by complying with a demand that he abstain from any action which he has no duty to take, except that:

    Again, “…the actor knows that he can avoid the necessity of using such force with complete safety by retreating or by surrendering possession of a thing…”

    Why must one risk life and limb fleeing to a door that they (wrongfully) ‘knew’ was unlocked? Why must one risk running, ‘knowing’ they’re faster, only to slip and fall victim to an assailant? Why must one attempt to drive away, knowing they can drive faster than a man on foot, only to have the car stall, allowing an assailant to enter the vehicle? The only reason is legal obligation. If there is going to be ambiguity in law, should it not favor the innocent?

    Why must a victim pay massive fees to sit in court and have an attorney argue interpretations of ‘reasonable’ and ‘should have known’? This new law prevents the courts from even hearing the case, significantly reducing the financial burden on the innocent.

    It’s odd that you call civil action by criminals a ‘gimmick’ (you say NEW gimmick, implying civil suit is the old).

    “(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.”

    In light of that and many similar news articles originating in states without ‘stand your ground’ laws, I don’t understand how an attorney of your experience fails to acknowledge how this new PA law protects the innocent and reduces privolous suits.

  18. It’s sad that this law is necessary in the first place, but it’s even more concerning that people wish to impose their beliefs on others. Unless you live in Kennesaw, GA, nobody is requiring you own a gun. Assuming you’re a law abiding citizen, it’s your right to own, or not own, a firearm.

    The typical American citizen does not WANT to shoot anybody, for any reason. We are law abiding people that want to live our lives without fear of criminal attack and just as important, without criminal prosecution.

    This law would not be necessary if overzealous prosecutors did not routinely try to charge law abiding citizens with felonies when they try to defend their lives against criminals intent on doing them harm.

    Alas, gun control advocates will claim that Pennsylvania will now become the wild, wild, west, with gunfights in the street and citizens randomly shooting anybody who walks through their door. They made similar claims when the assault weapons ban was about to sunset. They made these claims each time a state permitted concealed weapons carry. They will continue to make these baseless claims….

    The reality? The typical law abiding citizen has no desire to shoot anybody. Over the past 20 years, statistics show overwhelmingly that guns deter crime. Accordingly, all but a couple states are now ‘gun friendly’. Most already have this law in place, but why cloud the issue with fact.

    This new law is bad news for criminals and good news for their would-be victims.

  19. Yo, “Bukko”, don’t think for a second that inner-city thugs won’t come into your home and kill. It’s not uncommon!!!!! Those dirt-bag criminals ARE NOT imaginary. It’s one of many dangers of that part of the city. Gun owners don’t “want to kill” but being prepared is the only way to live. Wise up and get yourself a cup of nice hot tea.

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