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November 5, 2014
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Why Do You Own Or Carry A Gun?

Dear Members,

We want to hear your stories and your feedback, tell us: why do you own and/or carry a firearm and what do your Second Amendment rights mean to you? The more responses and feedback we receive, the better we will be able to serve you, our members. We look forward to your responses.

Sincerely,
Dave Donchecz
Vice President of Member Services

To answer Dave�s question, simply click here or the photo above and respond in the comment section. Remember, you may need to be signed into your Facebook account to share your response. If you aren�t following U.S. Law Shield on Facebook, now is a perfect time to do so, simply click the �Like� button at the top of the U.S. Law Shield page for daily content regarding gun news and law changes across the country. We appreciate that some members don�t feel comfortable posting publically that they own firearms; please feel free to still share what it is you think the Second Amendment means or is intended to do or email Dave Donchecz at dave@uslawshield.com.

Pennsylvania Gun Law: The Castle Doctrine
For a man�s house is his castle, and each man�s home is his safest refuge � Sir Edward Coke 1628 (Institute of the Laws of England)

Dear Members and Friends:

If you have watched the news on TV or read a newspaper, you may have heard the phrases �Castle Doctrine� and �Stand Your Ground� in reference to self-defense laws. There has been considerable debate about just what these laws are and how far they allow someone to go in protecting themselves, their homes, and their family. Unfortunately, not every news outlet or blog writer is as informed about these legal concepts as they could be.

The purpose of this article is to introduce these important legal concepts to you, and explain them clearly enough that you will be better prepared in case you ever need to protect your family, home, or self from danger.

What Is The Castle Doctrine?

The phrase �Castle Doctrine,� is a simple description of a complicated state law. However, the phrase is not actually found in the applicable state statutes. The concept of the Castle Doctrine comes from the philosophy that every person is the King or Queen of their home, and as such, is entitled to certain privileges that others are not entitled to. In the context of firearms self-defense law, it generally means that a person is given the presumption that they were reasonable in using force or deadly force against an unlawful intruder. Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute Title 18 �505(b)(2.1) is Pennsylvania�s version of the Castle Doctrine.

Pennsylvania�s Castle Doctrine law affords you legal protection while inside your �castle� by allowing you to use deadly force against an unlawful intruder and giving you a presumption of reasonableness under certain circumstances. In effect, if you know or have reason to believe that a person is unlawfully and forcefully entering or has entered and is present in your dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle, or if a person is unlawfully and forcefully removing or attempting to remove you or another from your dwelling, occupied vehicle or residence, then Pennsylvania law gives you the legal presumption that deadly force against the person to protect yourself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat, is reasonable and justified.

Note that the definitions of �dwelling,� �residence� and �vehicle� are relatively broad as they apply to the statute. A dwelling is defined as any building or structure, including any attached porch, deck or patio, though movable or temporary, or a portion thereof which is for the time being the home or place of lodging of the actor (the one using deadly force). A residence is a dwelling in which a person resides, either temporarily or permanently, or is visiting as an invited guest. Lastly, a vehicle is a conveyance of any kind, whether or not motorized, that is designed to transport people or property. As you can see, Pennsylvania�s Castle Doctrine is far-ranging, applying to everything from your family home, to a mobile home, to even a tent while you are camping!

Does Pennsylvania�s Castle Doctrine Law Apply To Mere Trespassers?

No. As discussed above, it is legally presumed that deadly force is reasonable and justified if you know or have reason to believe that a person is entering or has entered into your dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle and is still there, or if a person is removing or trying to remove you or another person from your dwelling, occupied vehicle, or residence.

This list excludes trespassers who merely step onto your property without permission. Further, just because an intruder unlawfully enters into your detached garage or shed, you are not necessarily free to use deadly force to get them to leave, unless the building is being used as a residence, i.e. someone is sleeping there overnight. Be sure that you do not fall victim to the common misconception that the Castle Doctrine gives you carte blanche to use deadly force against someone just because they are on your property. This could result in both criminal charges and a civil lawsuit, things you would be better off without!

You do have a legal right to exclude or remove trespassers from your land, however, you are limited to using non-deadly force to do so. Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute Title 18 �507(a) states that if someone trespasses or unlawfully enters onto your land and/or is carrying away movable property (e.g. your car), you may use force when you believe that such force is immediately necessary to prevent these offenses from occurring. You are also allowed to use force to reenter land or retake your stolen movable property if you believe you were unlawfully dispossessed of the land or movable property and are entitled to possession, and the force is used immediately or in fresh pursuit after the dispossession; or you believe that the person against whom you use force has no claim to the property, and in the case of land, the circumstances as you believe them to be are of such urgency that it would be an exceptional hardship to postpone the entry or reentry until a court order is obtained. However, you are not justified in using deadly force in this case!

What If A Trespasser Starts Committing Other Crimes?

If a trespasser has more nefarious motives for being on your property, a mere criminal trespass or act of carrying away your property may turn into a more serious crime where you could be justified in using deadly force to protect your property. Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute Title 18 �507(c)(4) allows a person to use deadly force against a trespasser who goes beyond being merely present or carrying away movable property. First, if a trespasser unlawfully enters into a person�s dwelling, the person does not believe or have reason to believe the entry is lawful, and the person neither believes nor has reason to believe that force less than deadly force would be adequate to terminate the entry, then the use of deadly force against a trespasser may be legally justified.

Additionally, if the previous three conditions are not met, deadly force may still be legally justified when the person believes that the person against whom the force is used is attempting to dispossess him or her of their dwelling other than under a claim of right to its possession, or that such force is necessary to prevent the commission of a felony in the dwelling.

Once again, however, if a trespasser comes onto your property, refuses to leave, and is not committing or attempting any of the serious actions listed above, you are likely not justified in using deadly force to remove the trespasser from your property. You may be justified in using reasonable and appropriate physical force if the trespasser is trying to steal something or commit criminal mischief, but you may not be justified in shooting your firearm at the trespasser!

Criminal Prosecution Even If You Were Justified

While Pennsylvania law may provide you a legal justification for using force or deadly force when someone enters and/or tries to remove you from your dwelling, occupied vehicle, or residence, this does not mean that you are immune to being arrested and thrown in jail. Even if you were completely in-the-right and acted according to law, you may still be subject to all of the complicated and drawn-out processes of the legal system. Your right to assert a legal justification under the Castle Doctrine is just that: a legal justification. It is neither a �Get Out of Jail Free Card,� nor blanket exemption from the legal process.

In fact, always remember there is a high probability that you will go to jail and have to post bond to get out long before the issue of justification is considered by the court. We see cases like this frequently, not to mention other cases similar to these unfolding all over the country every day. You may end up having to go through the process of a criminal trial to assert your justification defense before a judge or jury in order to be absolved of any guilt in the eyes of the legal system. In addition, this process may take months or even years to get resolved!

Fortunately, Pennsylvania Statute 42 �8340.2 does provide a level of civil immunity to a person who uses deadly force in protection of himself or herself, another person, or property pursuant to other Pennsylvania law. If you are sued by a criminal who is trying to collect damages from you resulting from your use of deadly force, and your use of force is determined to have been justified, you are immune from civil liability for personal injuries sustained by a perpetrator which were caused as a result of your use of force. You are also allowed to recover reasonable expenses, including attorney�s fees, expert witness fees, court costs and compensation of income if you prevail in a civil action. A word of caution though, this immunity does not apply to injured third-parties or property damage.

Pennsylvania�s Stand Your Ground Law

Unlike a number of other states, the phrase �Stand Your Ground� is found in Pennsylvania statutory law. Pennsylvania law tells us that, under certain conditions, there is no duty to retreat if faced with a situation where you have to use force or deadly force to protect yourself or another. Even if by retreating you could avoid the entire confrontation, you do not necessarily have to. Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute Title 18 �505(b)(2.3) states that you have no duty to retreat and have the right to stand your ground and meet force with force, up to deadly force, if: (1) your use of force or deadly force is justified under the law, (2) you believe it is immediately necessary to use force to protect yourself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, or sexual intercourse by force or threat, (3) you are in a location where you have the legal right to be (e.g. you are not trespassing), (4) you are not in illegal possession of a firearm, (5) you are not engaged in criminal activity, and (6) your assailant uses or displays a firearm, replica of a firearm, or other lethal weapon.

Although this statute is classified as a �Stand Your Ground� law, it is better understood as a �No Duty to Retreat� law. Under these very limited circumstances, a prosecutor or law enforcement officer cannot argue that you had a reasonable escape route or that you should have had to fall back before justifiably using force or deadly force. If you are facing a criminal charge, qualifying under this statute could mean the difference between a conviction or not!

Qualifying To Use Force or Deadly Force Is A Prerequisite Of Pennsylvania�s Stand Your Ground Law

While you are not required to escape or retreat before using force or deadly force, it is imperative that you are justified in using it! Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute Title 18 �505 states that force against another person is justifiable in self-protection when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by the other person on the present occasion. Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute Title 18 �506 states that force against another person in protection of a third person is justifiable when: (1) you are justified in using force as above, (2) under the circumstances as you believe them to be, the person you are protecting would be justified using the same level of protective force, and (3) you believe that intervention is necessary to protect the other person.

You are justified in using deadly force if you reasonably believe that deadly force is immediately necessary to protect against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat. This includes the use of deadly force in response to committed or attempted murder, aggravated assault, robbery, carjacking, and home invasion.

To put it more plainly, you have no duty to retreat and have the right to �stand your ground� and use force if you meet all of the following conditions. You have the right to use deadly force and "stand your ground" if you meet both the requirements above for deadly force and all of the following conditions:
  1. You are in a location where you have a legal right to be;
  2. You are not in illegal possession of a firearm;
  3. You are not engaged in a criminal activity, and
  4. The assailant uses or displays a firearm, replica firearm, or other lethal weapon.
An important restriction is that you may only use such force as is immediately necessary for the purpose of protection from the use of unlawful force against you by another. This means both that the threat against you or another person must be immediate, and that your level of force should not be higher than necessary to prevent the danger.

As an example, suppose that you are at baseball game, enjoying a nice day out at the ballpark with your family, when an intoxicated fan, angry at the fact that his team just got scored against, begins yelling obscenities from his seat behind you. When you turn around and politely ask the man to stop cursing, he gets belligerent, starts threatening to �whoop� you, and pulls back his fist as if to cold-cock you. In this case, you may be legally justified in using physical force against the man, if you believe it is immediately necessary in the circumstances. However, you would not be justified in later following the man out to his car in the parking lot and initiating a fight with him over his insults. Likewise, you would most likely not be justified in pulling out your firearm and taking a shot at him just because he was belligerent.

Disqualifications From �No Duty to Retreat� Protection

Remember that in order to qualify for protection under the �No Duty to Retreat Statute,� you must first be legally able to use force or deadly force. There are a number of situations where your conduct may disqualify you from being able to use such force. If you fall under one of the following situations, your use of force or deadly force against another will not be justified, and therefore, you will not qualify for protection under the �No Duty to Retreat� statute:
  1. You will not be justified in using force to resist an arrest which you know is being made by a police officer, even if the arrest is ultimately determined to be unlawful.
  2. Your use of force in response to someone who occupies or possesses some property (or someone on their behalf) and is using force against you to protect their property is not justifiable, unless you believe that your use of force is necessary to protect yourself against death or serious bodily injury.
  3. Deadly force is not justifiable if you provoke someone�s use of force against yourself with the intent to kill or seriously injure the other person afterwards with your own use of deadly force in return.
  4. If you are the initial aggressor, you will not be justified in using deadly force against another person.
Conclusion

As you can see, the Pennsylvania versions of the "Castle Doctrine" and "Stand Your Ground" laws are extremely complex and cannot be summarized with simple catch phrases. These topics consume thousands of pages of legal treatises and continue to be a huge part of many lawyers' careers, so understandably this article is only a brief overview. We hope, however, that this newsletter provides you with a better understanding of both of these legal topics. If you have any questions about these or other Pennsylvania firearms laws, please do not hesitate to contact us, and we will be happy to help.

DISCLAIMER

Members and friends please keep in mind that each circumstance may be different and although this is a general discussion of the law, it should not be considered legal advice for you or any other situation. If you have any legal questions make sure you contact a licensed lawyer, or, members better yet, if you have a question we can get you in contact with one of our independent firearms program attorneys who will be happy to answer your firearms questions.

Featured Seminars: Members, Join Us and Bring a Friend

U.S. Law Shield is proud to host informative Gun Law Seminars and Workshops all over the State of Pennsylvania. Come join us as our independent program attorneys and firearms experts separate legal fact from fiction.

HARRISBURG
Thursday, November 6, 2014
6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Cost: $5 Members, $10 Non-Members
Sign up here!


MONACA
Saturday, November 15, 2014
6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Cost: $5 Members, $10 Non-Members
Sign up here!


HARRISBURG
Thursday, November 20, 2014
6:00 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Cost: $5 Members, $10 Non-Members
Sign up here!


To view a complete list of seminars and workshops in your area, please go to www.GunLawSeminar.com. We hope to see you at one of our next events!
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