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Is Murder in Self-Defense a Crime in Pennsylvania?


9/30/2019

In a recent incident in Philadelphia, a store clerk shot and killed a man who was attempting to rob the store. Video of the incident shows the robber pointing a handgun at the clerk, who then pulled out a gun and shot and killed him. The police declined to file murder charges as the video clearly demonstrated that the clerk was acting in self-defense. Unfortunately, not everyone who is acting in self-defense is as lucky. You can find yourself facing murder charges even though you were simply defending yourself, and if you do, you need to get a lawyer immediately.

Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer has the knowledge and experience to help you avoid murder charges or successfully argue self-defense to avoid conviction. Don’t leave your future in the hands of over-aggressive prosecutors. She will fight for your rights to help you get a fair result. If you’re facing murder charges, contact Wimmer Criminal Defense Law at 215-712-1212 to schedule a free consultation and discuss how we can help you.

Murder Defined Under Pennsylvania Law

Murder is classified under Pennsylvania law as criminal homicide and defined as “intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or negligently” causing the death of another human being. There are three different degrees of murder charges:

  • First-degree murder: intentionally causing the death of another human being
  • Second-degree murder: causing the death of another human being during the commission of a felony, either as the principal or an accomplice
  • Third-degree murder: all other kinds of murder.

You could also be charged with voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter is not relevant to a discussion of self-defense, but we will discuss the overlap between voluntary manslaughter and self-defense later on.

What the Prosecution Has to Prove

To obtain a murder conviction, the prosecution has to prove the following:

  • Another person was killed as a result of your actions
  • You either intended to kill the other person; or
  • Your reckless or negligent actions resulted in the death of the other person

Unless the prosecution can prove these elements, you cannot be convicted of murder. If they can, however, then you must argue that you acted in self-defense, and the murder was therefore justified.

Justifiable Homicide

Self-defense is often referred to as “justifiable homicide,” meaning that is excused under the law. However, it’s important to understand that you may be charged with murder even if you were acting in self-defense. In addition, you need to establish that you were acting in self-defense to avoid conviction for murder.

Self-Defense is a Complicated Defense

Self-defense can be raised in any situation where you are accused of using force, but successfully arguing self-defense is difficult. It requires a careful analysis of the facts, a thorough understanding of the law pertaining to self-defense, and the ability to craft a persuasive and logical argument that supports your actions. The stakes are extraordinarily high in a murder case, and so we strongly recommend that you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia if you plan to claim self-defense. If you cannot prove that you acted in self-defense, you will be convicted of murder and potentially face life in prison or the death penalty.

The Use of Deadly Force

In general, Pennsylvania law allows the use of force in protecting yourself when a person “believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful person” by another person. The use of deadly force is justified if you believe that the use of deadly force is necessary to protect yourself in the following situations:

  • You were protecting yourself against death, or
  • Serious bodily injury, or
  • Sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat

It’s important to understand that the use of force may be justified, but the use of deadly force is justified only in certain situations. Furthermore, you cannot claim self-defense if you provoked the attack.

A Reasonable Belief

In order to successfully prove self-defense, you must prove that it was reasonable to believe that deadly force was necessary. For example, if your attacker was brandishing a loaded gun and threatening to shoot you, it would be reasonable for you to believe that your life was in imminent danger. On the other hand, it may not be reasonable to believe that your life was in imminent danger if your attacker was unarmed and threatening to fight you. That said, there is a grey area between those two examples, requiring careful consideration of the facts and persuasive argument to prove that you had good reason to believe that your life was in danger.

Voluntary Manslaughter Vs. Self-Defense

If you did you unreasonably believed that the use of deadly force was necessary, you can be convicted of manslaughter. If law enforcement anticipates that you will argue that you acted in self-defense, they may charge you with both first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. This is another reason why it’s so important to hire a criminal defense attorney – they can help you understand the charges against you and the potential consequences that you are facing if convicted.

Duty to Retreat or Stand Your Ground?

Another question that arises in self-defense cases is whether you had a duty to retreat or have the right to “stand your ground.” The duty to retreat is another exception to self-defense. Pennsylvania does not justify the use of deadly force if you can safely retreat from the situation.

That said, Pennsylvania also recognizes the right to “stand your ground” if you were attacked in your home or place of work, provided that you were not the initial aggressor. That means that the use of deadly force is justified if you were attacked in your home or at work, even if you could have safely retreated.

Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Consultation with a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer

Murder charges are the most serious charges you can face. If convicted, you will experience life-long consequences. Don’t assume that the prosecution will believe that you acted in self-defense – you need someone on your side who will fight for your rights. You protected your safety, now you need to protect your future and your rights – call Wimmer Defense Law at 215-712-1212 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation today.

 

 

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