Words Matter: Clearing Up Confusing Terms in Pennsylvania Self-Defense Law

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Sep 27, 2019 | 0 Comments

An alleged homicide in Philadelphia may have been the result of self-defense during an armed break-in.

Criminal defense lawyer Joseph D. Lento clears up some of the most confusing terminology surrounding both homicide law and Pennsylvania's Castle Doctrine.

Philadelphia Police Investigate Potential Self-Defense Shooting

Police responded to a 911 call about a possible home invasion in the 2200 block of South Darien Street in Philadelphia in the middle of the night of September 25, 2019.

There, they found a 22-year-old resident bleeding from bullet wounds that grazed his face and the back of his head. They also found another man who had been shot in the head and pronounced him dead on the scene.

The resident said that he was defending himself against an intruder. The struggle turned into a fight over a gun. Police say that at least seven shots were fired during the fight.

Police say that the victim was wearing gloves when they found him – a sign that it was a burglary. Area residents also say that a vehicle fled the scene after the shots were fired inside – another indication that it was a robbery (update as of September 27th: it what may not be a surprise, it appears that the attempted robbery was drug-related because the resident may be facing drug charges.)

Some Terminology: Homicide, Murder, and Manslaughter

Media reports of the incident have referred to the case as a suspected homicide. The differences between a homicide and a murder or manslaughter are often confused:

  • Homicide is the act of killing another human being. Homicides that are murder or manslaughter are criminal homicides.
  • Murder is a homicide that is done deliberately and with premeditation, or while committing a felony.
  • Manslaughter is also a homicide but can be done in the heat of passion or involuntarily.

All murders or manslaughters are examples of homicides, but not all homicides are murder or manslaughter.

More Terminology: Pennsylvania's Castle Doctrine

Another legal term that leads to confusion is the Castle Doctrine, which is similar, but different in important respects, to other iterations of self-defense law.

  • Self-defense is a legal justification for a violent crime. It is easier to justify small acts of violence, like assault, as self-defense than lethal acts of violence.
  • The Castle Doctrine is using lethal force in self-defense against an intruder in your own home. This is when you right to use self-defense is at its strongest.
  • Stand Your Ground is a law that says when you can use force in self-defense. When Pennsylvania's Stand Your Ground Law applies, you do not have to withdraw from an altercation that you did not start before being able to use force.

As you can see, both the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground Laws are particular applications of self-defense law. Less obviously, the Castle Doctrine often includes the Stand Your Ground Law, allowing you to use force to defend your home without retreating.

Criminal Defense in Philadelphia With Joseph D. Lento

Joseph D. Lento is a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer who can represent you if you are being accused of a violent crime and want to argue that you only acted out of self-defense. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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