Self Defense In Your Home

If I am in my house, I own and possess a gun legally, and an intruder tries to break in to my house, can I shoot them without the risk of prosecution? Does the answer change if the person dies when I shoot them?

Under the common law and under the current Pennsylvania statutory law, the issue is called justifiable use of deadly force; whether the person dies is not relevant. Under the current law, if you are in your home someone tries to break into your home, and you are prosecuted, you may assert at trial the affirmative defense that your use of deadly force was justified and that you should be found not guilty due to that justification.

The problem with that rule is that an affirmative defense generally requires the defense to prove something–in this case, proving the reasonable belief existed.

The basic premise of the American trial system that the District Attorney must prove the entire case and no burden is place upon the defendant is somewhat stripped from the defendant regarding affirmative defenses because the burden is shifted to the defendant.

While you do have this defense of justification available for you, some Pennsylvanian’s believe that the burden should not shift to the defendant in certain situation. House Bill 40 of the 2009 Session, if passed into law would create a presumption, that if you legally own or possess a gun, within your home, and your house is being unlawfully or forcibly entered, you would be presumed to have a reasonable belief that deadly force is immediately necessary to protect yourself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force.

This is a basic summary of this addition in the new bill, there are many exceptions to the above. However, this shows the intent of legislature to eliminate the burden shifting to the defendant when the defendant is being attacked in their own home.

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