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Self-Defense in Pennsylvania

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has recently affirmed the case of Commonwealth v. Torres through Commonwealth v. Lineman, holding that the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant did not act in self-defense, when there is evidence of self-defense raised by the Defendant. This is a major decision, as it reaffirms that the justification of self-defense must be disproven beyond a reasonable doubt for a defendant to be convicted of a crime. Self-defense remains one of the strongest justification defenses in the law.

Raising Self-Defense

In Commonwealth v. Lineman, the defendant was charged with assaulting the complainant with a wrench. The complainant was hospitalized but failed to appear in-court. At trial Lineman testified that he acted in self-defense. Specifically, he stated that the complainant punched him in the face, before he punched back. The government presented no evidence to refute the defendant’s testimony. Lineman presented character evidence (i.e., evidence of a nonviolent disposition) whereas the complainant had a criminal record. Lineman was found guilty. The Supreme Court reversed. According to the Supreme Court, “When a defendant raises the issue of self-defense, the Commonwealth bears the burden to disprove such a defense beyond a reasonable doubt.” Here, because the government did not disprove self- defense, Lineman was improperly convicted.

Self-Defense in Assault Cases

Self-Defense is a justification defense. This means that the defendant is not denying his conduct, but is instead arguing to the court there is a legally recognized exception or justification for his conduct. 18 Pa. C.S.A. Section 505(A) of the Pennsylvania Code specifically allows individuals to use force to protect themselves against the unlawful use of force of another. Therefore, Lineman’s actions of punching back someone who punched him would qualify is prima facie self defense. Self-Defense is an extremely effective justification defense because as in Lineman, the Courts have held that the burden of proof is on the government to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, if the justification of self-defense is raised the burden shifts to the government to disprove the allegations. This may be particularly effective in assault cases, which often boil down to “he said, she said” scenarios in court. The complainant says one thing. The defendant says another. If the judge is unsure of who to believe the defendant must be found not guilty since the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt.

Our Success with Self-Defense Cases

Our firm has successfully litigated hundreds of self-defense cases. In many of those cases, the defendant was charged with assault or related crimes of violence. In some of these cases evidence was presented to establish the complainant was the aggressor. In Commonwealth v. R.S., the defendant was arrest and charged with assaulting her boyfriend. R.S. proceeded to trial where she testified that her boyfriend pushed her before she struck him with a glass. R.S.’s boyfriend was much larger than she was. Further, evidence was presented that R.S. had a PFA with her boyfriend, who was violating the PFA while the presence of R.S. There was limited evidence to substantiate the complainant’s version of events, as there were no medical records or photographs to corroborate injuries. Ultimately, the court found the R.S. not guilty of all charges. The case was expunged and R.S. continued with her profession as a nurse.

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer

Our firm has successfully litigated thousands of criminal cases, and we regularly employ the justification of self-defense. This justification is perhaps one of the most potent weapons in the attorneys arsenal since the government must disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. If you have been charged with a crime, and you were not the aggressor, contact our office to schedule a free, no obligation strategy session to evaluate your criminal case. We will review the facts to ascertain whether a self-defense justification is appropriate. If so we will work zealously in the courtroom to protect your rights. We are conveniently located at 1628 John F. Kennedy Blvd., Suite 1301, Philadelphia, PA 19103.

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Author:

Mark D. Copoulos

Mark D. Copoulos

From 2008-2011 Mark D. Copoulos worked for the First Judicial District, the Honorable Arnold, and the Honorable Shelley-Robins as interns and/or staff....

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