One of the questions that we get quite frequently is, “How far can I go under the law to defend my property?” Everyone works hard, and nothing is worse than a thief because they look to take something that is not theirs, that they didn’t work for, and make it theirs. As angry as you are, the law in Pennsylvania is very clear: you CANNOT use deadly force to defend your property.
An example would be that you come home, park in your exterior driveway, and see some scumbag and his friend ripping off your new widescreen TV. You know, the one that you really saved up for and you didn’t put on the credit card, but you actually paid off. Man, you’re going to be mad, but you cannot shoot them. It’s not the death penalty in Pennsylvania. That would be very, very, very bad for you.
Now, there is confounding information that should be considered in the arena of defending your property. Your home is your property, and nothing is more private than one’s house I would suggest. This is where the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground come into play. As it applies to property, it’s very simple: if someone is trying to break and enter, or in other words, attempting to get inside your house, then the Castle Doctrine emerges.
The Castle Doctrine is simple.
There’s absolutely no duty to retreat in one’s home. Your home is your castle. If an uninvited person attempts to come into your home, then you’re presumed to act reasonably if you use lethal deadly force against them. Stand Your Ground differs. When it comes to Stand Your Ground, it generally applies outside of the home.
There is a difference when it comes to the person that is perpetrating the crime, between burglary, robbery, and theft. So, theft, in Pennsylvania, is taking something from another person, without their consent, with the intent to permanently deprive them of the property. And we have different types of theft. Theft by receiving stolen property. Theft by unlawful taking. Theft by failing to give the required disposition. And it all basically comes down to taking something with the permanent intent to deprive, (meaning, taking away) someone of their belongings forever.
Robbery is when you use either force or the threat of force in the course of committing a theft. If someone comes inside your house without permission and is stealing stuff, that’s not a robbery. That is what we call a burglary.
Burglary in Pennsylvania is when anyone enters a building or occupied structure with the intent to commit a crime. If someone comes into your house with the intent of beating you up, it’s a burglary. Because the crime is simple assault, beating you up, and coming into the house without permission, that would be the difference between it becoming a burglary or a simple assault. Burglary is not just taking stuff from your house. It’s any crime that is committed in another person’s property where you’re not supposed to be.
The last question really dovetails on what we said before. Can you use deadly force to protect yourself from simple trespassers on land? Well, absolutely not. Not in Pennsylvania.
Simple trespass is against the law. Put up those trespassing signs, videotape them, turn them into the police, and they’ll get the citation in the mail. They’ll have to pay a fine. But, it does not equal the death penalty in Pennsylvania. You can never, ever, shoot someone if they’re merely a simple trespasser on land.
If you have any other questions about any of these concepts that we talked about in the video, please call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to an Independent Program Attorney.