Expanded Castle Doctrine requires weapon before deadly force
By Stacy Brown | PA Independent
HARRISBURG —The Florida stand-your-ground
law may be preventing authorities from charging the man accused of shooting teenager Trayvon Martin
But under the same circumstances in Pennsylvania, which has a similar law, charges could have been filed.
"The significant difference in Pennsylvania law is that (the alleged aggressor) would have had to display a deadly weapon to justify a person using deadly force," said Richard Long
, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association
, which provides training and support to the state's 67 district attorneys.
In the Martin case, various media reports and a released 911 call appeared to show the teenager did not have a weapon, just a bag of Skittles candy and an iced-tea drink. Also, Martin's shooter allegedly followed the teen despite a 911 operator asking him not to. A scuffle ensued and Martin was shot and killed.
The stand-your-ground legislation, known in Pennsylvania as the Castle Doctrine
, allows residents to use force, including deadly force, against an attacker in their home or any public place they have a legal right to be.
Florida adopted the law seven years ago, and Pennsylvania passed a similar law last year.
The breadth of the Florida law has created a media circus and a firestorm of debate, since the Feb. 26 shooting by neighborhood crime watch volunteer George Zimmerman
, who has not been arrested or charged in the case.
Under Florida law, a person may use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first.
Pennsylvania's updated law no longer requires a homeowner or a resident in almost any public location to retreat from an attacker. If there is a threat, violence can be the first response if the attacker has a deadly weapon. The law also protects a person who acts in self-defense from civil lawsuits by an attacker or attacker’s family.
Since the Florida shooting, some Pennsylvania lawmakers have sought to revisit the Castle Doctrine.
“Gun violence weakens our country and takes innocent lives," Josephs said. "Stand-your-ground laws — laws that permit one to use deadly force if feeling threatened without having to retreat first — are hazardous to everyone's health.”
Josephs is planning to introduce legislation that would repeal the provision of Pennsylvania's Castle Doctrine that makes it optional for a person to seek retreat before using deadly force.
"As a legislative body, we should move proactively and learn from Florida's egregious mistake," she said.
But, other lawmakers still support the new law.
“Our citizens who work hard and abide by the rules of decent society deserve the protection of the law," said state Rep. Scott Perry, R-Allegheny
. "The bill enjoyed wide bipartisan support during the process of passage.”
Pennsylvania lawmakers know that law-abiding citizens must have the right to protect themselves, when criminals attack without fear of being second-guessed by an overzealous prosecutor, said Chris Cox, executive director of firearms rights advocate National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action
“Crime victims don’t have the luxury of time when confronted by a criminal and must be able to count on the law being on their side. This new law accomplishes that by removing any mandate of forcible retreat.”
Long said the Pennsylvania law is tougher than Florida's because of the provision that perpetrators must have a deadly weapon, but there were skeptics.
"You have to define deadly weapon, and the law doesn't clearly do that," said Thomas Baldino
, professor of law and politics at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre
. "So, the same could happen here if, for instance, the police determine that a baseball bat or a penknife is a deadly weapon, and they don't make an arrest because of it."
, law professor at Drexel University
in Philadelphia, said the Florida shooting has opened a can of worms. He said people who carry guns now will use it as an excuse to shoot first and ask questions later.
“I’m a little bit concerned about how the public is being educated, and I’m hopeful that the states will reconsider passing these types of laws,” Tibbs said.
, a former Lawrence County district attorney who currently serves on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole
, wrote in a column for the Pennsylvania Law Weekly
that regardless of location, the message from law enforcement is always the same: Do not intervene. Do not try to be a hero. Leave the crime-fighting to the police.
"The stand-your-ground law is anything but deliberative and thoughtful," Mangino wrote. "We lament the killer who is executed after trial and years of review, yet we empower a single individual to make a split second decision — suspicion, a threat, fear — ‘bang!’ There is no investigation, no trial, and no appeal. In that split second, the individual is judge, jury and executioner."