LETTER: Amend Stand Your Ground law, don't repeal it
The Dispatch’s editorial on Bucks County Sen. Steve Santarserio’s call for repealing Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground (SYG) law demonstrates the same misconceptions about SYG seen repeatedly over the years.
It is pointless to compare Pennsylvania’s SYG law to Florida’s as a reason for repealing it. There are too many differences to draw any conclusions about whether repealing our SYG law is necessary or wise.
Stand Your Ground is not a “get out of jail free” legal defense. It simply removes the duty to retreat requirement (i.e., “avoidance”) of a traditional self-defense claim. Yet, a defendant still must meet all other elements of a self-defense claim: innocence, imminence, proportionality and reasonableness. If the jury does not believe he or she was justified in just one of those other elements, a self-defense claim will fail.
Unfortunately, the General Assembly drafted Pennsylvania’s SYG law in a way to make the avoidance element of self-defense all but irrelevant. For a defendant to invoke SYG, the attacker must “display or otherwise use” a firearm or replica, or any other weapon “readily or apparently capable of lethal use.” By the time an attacker displays a weapon, however, the defender is often well behind the curve to retreat safely. This “displays or uses” requirement makes Pennsylvania's SYG law for the most part legally useless.
Florida law clearly states SYG may be invoked upon a reasonable belief that “such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.” Florida’s SYG law conforms to traditional common law notions of self-defense that it is a “reasonable” not “actual” belief that deadly force is required. In contrast, Pennsylvania’s SYG law, as written, essentially requires an “actual” belief since the defender must see the weapon before acting.
Despite Sen. Santarsiero’s inapt comparison to Florida, Pennsylvania’s SYG law does not need to be repealed. It needs to be amended so that the statutory language includes a reasonable belief of an imminent display or use of a deadly weapon.
As an attorney and a York County employee, this letter contains my views and my views only. It should not be construed as legal advice nor the opinion of my employer.