Pennsylvania Legislature Seeks to Expand the "Castle Doctrine"

On November 27, 2010, Govenor Rendell vetoed a bill that significantly altered self-defense law in Pennsylvania.  The bill, which easily passed both the Pennsylvania House and Senate, expanded the “castle doctrine” which permits citizens use deadly force in their homes or offices when presented with a threat of death or bodily injury without requiring an attempt to retreat.  This doctrine is called the “castle doctrine” because it is premised on the idea that a person’s home is their castle and the law should not require individuals to flee from intruders threatening them in their own home.  The proposed law expanded this rule to public areas with complete disregard for the theoretical basis for the doctrine.  By passing this bill, the Legislature has signed off on the use of deadly force without searching for safer alternatives. Governor Rendell vetoed the "stand your ground" legislation, stating, "The bill as passed encourages the use of deadly force, even when safe retreat is available, and advances a 'shoot first, ask questions later' mentality.  I do not believe that in a civilized society we should encourage violent and deadly confrontation when the victim can safely protect themselves.”The use of deadly force is very fact specific.  Citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have always had the right to self defense if faced with life threatening force, whether in one’s home or not.  The current law merely requires that, when in a public place, a potential shooter must attempt to avoid a fatal confrontation rather than run headlong into one.  The current law sufficiently protects individuals because it only impacts cases where there is no safe alternative to the use of deadly force.  It also limits the public’s exposure to the use of deadly force by requiring individuals to seek an alternative if available.Governor Rendell’s decision to veto the bill was supported by many law enforcement groups throughout the state including the Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys’ Association.    However, when Republican Governor-elect Tom Corbett takes office next year, the legislature will likely reintroduce some form of this bill.

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