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“Help! Rape!” Using Deadly Force to Defend a Third Party – Pennsylvania

Sexual assault stories have dominated the news recently, and we have received many questions about defending others against sexual assault and rape. We reached out to Independent Program Attorney Justin McShane to get the answers to your legal questions on defending a third party against rape and sexual assault.

Justin McShane: In Pennsylvania, you are allowed to be a good Samaritan. I know that’s really great you can do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and that’s kind of what goes on when it comes to the law of self-defense of third parties. Third parties just means anyone but you.
The law makes no distinction when it comes to someone who are close family members or a stranger. What it really does is take a look at the situation that that other person is in to see if self-defense is justified. Remember, we have two levels of self-defense. We have lethal deadly self-defense, which is very clear under the law, which is a very limited window, which is if you are in imminent, meaning immediate now, fear of serious bodily injury, death, kidnapping, or sexual assault. Under the totality of the circumstances, and it’s reasonable then lethal deadly force is authorized under the law.
Now, when it comes to events less than that then it depends upon the situation. Your level of force that’s going to be authorized for example, if someone shoves your loved-one, shoves my spouse, you can’t display a gun and shove it in their face or shoot them. I mean that’s going to be murder, or criminal attempt homicide, or aggravated assault. At the very least, it’s going to be simple assault. Just by pointing the gun at someone you’ve escalated it beyond what is called for. But however, you change those facts and circumstances someone’s got a bat and is about to hit my wife, is within striking distance, and has under the totality of the circumstances shown imminence that they intend to do so; it’s game on lethal deadly force is allowed.
There’s all this gray area in between, but it’s very important for you as a legally armed citizen to be playing that
when that game when this happens then I’ll do this. And play it out in your mind and see about those levels of force. Because the worst thing you want to do is be in that situation of the first time without doing that mental check first.

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