Self Defense Laws in Pennsylvania


Using Self Defense as a Defense against Criminal Charges in Pennsylvania

Many people are aware that self-defense exists as a legal defense to some crimes.

However, there are many misconceptions about exactly which circumstances this defense can be used. Pennsylvania does allow for self-defense exception to some crimes, but it is a legal defense only allowed in very specific situations.

In Pennsylvania, it is referred to as a use of force in self-protection rather than self-defense, but the concept is the same. It cannot be used by anyone wishing to defend their actions in a crime against another. In order for it to apply, it must fit certain criteria.

If you are wondering whether use of force in self-protection applies to your case, you should speak with a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney in Pennsylvania. A defense attorney will be able to determine if this exception applies to the specific facts of your case.

Whether you have been charged with disorderly conduct, simple assault, aggravated assault, or even homicide, in order to prove that you were acting in self-defense, you need a solid and strong legal defense.

If you have been arrested for a crime that you believe was use of force in self-protection in Pittsburgh, PA, call an experienced and aggressive defense attorney who will give you a free consultation and help you understand your rights, your record and how to best defend them.

Our number one goal is for your criminal charges to be reduced or dismissed.

Call Ketchel Law today at 412-456-1221 for a free consultation.

What is use of force in self-protection in PA?

Most people think of a common scenario when self-defense comes to mind. Particularly, two people get into a fight and one party ends up extremely injured or wounded and the other party claims that the injury was only caused as a result of defending him/herself. Most people typically agree that would qualify as use of force in self-protection. However, the law says differently. The result actually depends on the specifics in the scenario.

In Pennsylvania, use of force in self-protection is only justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary for protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion.

The actor must have a reasonable belief that the danger they face is immediate and the only way to avoid bodily harm or injury is to use force themselves. That means that the danger cannot have passed.

What is a reasonable belief?

In the law, a reasonable person standard often arises. What is means is, any reasonable person facing the same scenario would feel the same way as the person in question. So, if presented to a jury of his peers, those peers could identify the immediate threat of danger and the reaction to use the same force the actor chose to use in the same circumstances.

Additionally, the threat must be immediate. This means the danger cannot have passed for any portion of time before the actor responds with force.

If there is any chance for you to retreat and not use force, the law expects you to do so. If it can be proven that you had a chance to retreat and instead chose to use force, self-defense will not be a valid defense to your actions.

It is also extremely important that the person using force as self-defense not be the aggressor in the situation. If it can be proven that you caused the person to attack you, or provoked the attack in any way, self-defense will not be a viable defense.

For example, in the fight example from above, a person cannot punch another, then turn his back to walk away, and subsequently gets attacked from behind. In that case, when he turned to walk away, the danger had passed—he was no longer looking to harm the other individual. Therefore, self-defense would not apply.

Also, the threat has to be such that a “reasonable person” in the same scenario would feel the need to act the same way. Most reasonable people would agree that if someone punches you and walks away, and you then attack from behind, that is retaliation, not self-defense.


In PA, the law recognizes a specific scenario where you are not forced to look for an option to retreat before using force. This exception only applies to incidents occurring in your personal home, your car, or at your workplace. In these personal spaces, you have the right to protect yourself without first looking for a way to retreat.


There are very limited scenarios where it is justifiable to use deadly force to protect oneself. Again, the standard is one of reasonableness.

It would be unreasonable, for example, for a person to use a gun against an unarmed attacker who was only using his or her fists.

There are specific scenarios where the law finds deadly force acceptable, including:

  • Death;
  • Serious bodily injury;
  • Kidnapping, and;
  • Forced Sexual Intercourse.


There are several scenarios where self-defense is not justifiable, including:

  • To resist arrest (even if the arrest is unlawful.);
  • If the actor provoked the use of force against himself;
  • The actor knows he could avoid use of force by retreating (Exception: The Castle Doctrine).

Each case is unique and there are many angles that a really great attorney can attempt to fight for when defending your rights. People make plenty of mistakes and if any of their tactics have been illegal or improper, your case could be dismissed completely.

If you have been charged with a crime against another in Pennsylvania, call Pittsburgh Attorney Justin J. Ketchel for a free consultation.

He will aggressively fight on your behalf to ensure that your arrest has a minimal impact on all aspects of your life and your future.

Call Ketchel Law for a free legal consultation at 412-456-1221.


We offer free legal consultations to anyone charged with a crime. Call us today to find out how we can help defend your rights.

Learn more about Ketchel Law:

Our number one goal is for your criminal charges to be reduced or dismissed.

Call Ketchel Law today at 412-456-1221 for a free consultation.