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'Castle Doctrine' goes into effect Aug. 27

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Cindy Ekas 724-628-2000
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By Cindy Ekas

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011

State Rep. Tim Mahoney said the Castle Doctrine covers a dwelling (including porch, deck or patio), residence (defined as any dwelling in which a person resides, temporarily or permanently or visits as an invited guest) or occupied vehicle.

Under the new law, Mahoney said there is now a presumption that any attacker or intruder who is in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering any of these locations intends to do great bodily harm to any occupants -- and also a presumption that anyone inside can use deadly force to protect himself or herself against this attacker or intruder.

The same presumption applies if a person is trying to remove an occupant from any of these places against his or her will, he said.

The Castle Doctrine law, which expands a person's right to use deadly force in self-defense goes into law Aug. 27 -- 60 days after it was signed by Gov. Tom Corbett.

State Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Fayette of the 51st Legislative District, has overwhelmingly supported the Castle Doctrine, because he believes "people need to feel safe in their own homes."

"While this law tilts the legal playing field in favor of law-abiding citizens, which is why it garnered my wholehearted support, it does not empower everyone to adopt a Wild West mentality of 'Shoot now, ask questions, later,' " he said.

Mahoney said there are many reasons why he supports the Castle Doctrine.

"We live in different times now because of the declining state of the economy and people breaking into houses," he said. "The regular person needs to feel safe in their own home."

Mahoney said the Castle Doctrine shifts the burden on the person breaking into the home and not the person living in the home.

"This law is long overdue for Pennsylvania," he said. "A lot of other states already passed this law."

Since the Pennsylvania House and Senate approved the law, Mahoney said he has been receiving many questions from constituents who do not completely understand it.

"When you write laws, there is so much legal language in it," he said. "Common people don't understand what is actually changing because of the way laws are written. I had numerous calls from people who asked me to explain what the law really means in layman terms.

"This law doesn't mean that people can grab guns and start shooting," he added. "We live in a society of laws, and we have to obey those laws. If you know what the laws are and you understand them, you have a much better chance of obeying them."

Mahoney said he believes the Castle Doctrine will deter crime.

"Before you had to retreat from your residence if someone was threatening you, but now you have the right to defend your residence and not pay a criminal or civil penalty," he said. "I would think that the law will make criminals have second thoughts."

The Castle Doctrine is very important in Fayette County, where many homeowners have gun permits and guns in their homes, Mahoney said.

"But the new law doesn't mean that if someone knocks at your door, you can start shooting," he said. "This law is to protect you, your loved ones and your home. But if you feel your life is being threatened by someone with a gun, knife, club or whatever, you do have the right to defend yourself."

As a means of clarifying the law, Mahoney offered the following explanation of the Castle Doctrine.

The Castle Doctrine covers a dwelling (including porch, deck or patio), residence (defined as any dwelling in which a person resides, temporarily or permanently or visits as an invited guest) or occupied vehicle, according to Mahoney.

Under the new law, Mahoney said there is now a presumption that any attacker or intruder who is in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering any of these locations intends to do great bodily harm to any occupants -- and also a presumption that anyone inside can use deadly force to protect himself or herself against this attacker or intruder.

The same presumption applies if a person is trying to remove an occupant from any of these places against his or her will, he said.

However, there are some exceptions to these presumptions. Mahoney said they don't apply if the person attempting to gain entrance is:

• Another resident of (or person who has the right to be in) the dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle.

• A parent, grandparent or other guardian removing a child from the dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle.

• A peace officer (such as a police officer) acting in performance of his or her official duties, and the person inside knew, or reasonably should have known, that the person attempting entry was a peace officer.

• The person who uses protective deadly force is engaged in criminal activity or is using the dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle to conduct criminal activity.

Mahoney said the Castle Doctrine also applies in any other place where the individual has a right to be.

If you are not engaged in a criminal activity and are attacked, Mahoney said you do not have a duty to retreat.

"You have the right to 'stand your ground' and use deadly force -- provided the following criteria are all met," he said.

• You have a right to be in the place where you are attacked.

• You believe the use of force is immediately necessary to protect against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or rape.

• The person you use deadly force against displays or otherwise uses a firearm or a replica or a firearm, or any other weapon readily capable of lethal use.

• You are not legally in possession of a firearm.

• The person you use deadly force against is not someone that you knew was, or should have known was, a peace officer.

Mahoney said the new law means there is now protection against civil liability in the lawful use of force in self-defense and the defense of others. You can get an award of attorney's fees and costs, and compensation for loss of income, if:

• You use deadly force in compliance with Pennsylvania law.

• You are sued by the perpetrator for injuries incurred as a result of that force.

• You prevail in the lawsuit.

Mahoney said this information is by no means designed to be used as a substitute for legal advice or opinion.

"It is presented only to provide constituents with a better idea of the framework of the new law," he said. "While the Castle Doctrine greatly expands your rights in defending yourself, it is important to remember there are still some guidelines governing when deadly force is justified."

 

 
 


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