Philadelphia Criminal Law News

What are the Pennsylvania Stand Your Ground, Castle Doctrine Laws?

People in Philly and all over the country are talking about "stand your ground" laws in the wake of the tragic shooting in Florida of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The conversation has centered on race, gun carry laws and the use of what the accused shooter, George Zimmerman, has claimed was self-defense against the unarmed teen.

But in Pennsylvania, people still remember the local case of a teenager shot in self-defense by an adult and the issue of the newly passed Castle Doctrine law that the case brought up. In December of last year, Zachary Levin and his father confronted his mother's boyfriend with baseball bats after she called saying she had argued with him. During the confrontation, Zachary Levin was shot and killed. At the time, the question of whether it was a justified act of self-defense was raised.

So what is the law in Pennsylvania regarding self defense? What is a stand your ground law and what is the Castle Doctrine? Here is a brief explanation.

As of August 2011, Pennsylvania law changed, eliminating the duty to retreat when confronted by the imminent threat of death, serious bodily harm, kidnapping or sexual assault. Under the age old idea that your home is your castle, the right to attack when threatened in your home is usually called the Castle Doctrine.

Under House Bill 40, also called the Castle Doctrine Act, you have no requirement to retreat when threatened by great harm in your home, workplace or vehicle. In the Levin case, the shooter was just outside his home and being threatened by two persons wielding bats. Whether the killing was justifiable or not was up to the charging DA.

In the case of Trayvon Martin, the facts are different, and so is the law. As of this time, the grand jury is still investigating whether Zimmerman was reasonable at all in his belief that deadly force was justifiable against the apparently retreating teen armed with a bag of candy and a bottle of iced tea.

Further, in Florida, the Castle Doctrine has been extended to public spaces. Under that state's "stand your ground" law, a person has no duty to retreat from anywhere he has a legal right to be when he reasonably believes he is being threatened with deadly force, and may respond in kind. Opponents call it the "shoot first" law.

Did Trayvon Martin present a deadly threat to George Zimmerman? Should Zimmerman have been arrested? These are the questions the grand jury must investigate and that we will all be talking about now, and in the future.

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