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Shooting prompts debate over man's self-defense rights

Pennsylvania has a strong culture of responsible gun ownership. Throughout the state, people use their Second Amendment rights to use firearms to hunt, target shoot and protect their loved ones and property. It is that last item, however, that can court controversy.

A trial unfolding in Lehigh County is a great time to remind gun-owning Pennsylvanians of what their rights are when it comes to defending their lives and the lives of others.

According to Lehigh County prosecutors and police officers, a homeowner committed aggravated assault - amongst other violations - when he shot a Whitehall Township police officer responding to a 911 call of an intruder in the house.

Man claims he thought officers were burglars

The armed homeowner was spending the night in his vacant, for-sale home because it had been burglarized the previous night. When he thought he heard thieves returning, he called 911. The noise, he heard, however, was the responding police officers.

The wounded police officer testified that officers announced their presence. The homeowner, however, later told officers that he did not hear them announcing their presence, and only heard them moving around in his basement.

Did man have the right to use deadly force?

The man's attorney says the shooter was justified in protecting his home. Prosecutors, however, argue that the man was at the house that night intending to take the law into his own hands and shoot someone. The Lehigh County prosecutor has also stated that since the man was protecting a vacant property, he was not justified in using deadly force.

Pennsylvania self-defense law follows the "castle doctrine," which allows for the use of deadly force if someone is trying to illegally enter, has already illegally entered or is trying to remove you from your home, work or occupied vehicle. You do not have to try to retreat or announce your intentions before you act. In this case, do you think the man should be able to make the argument that his use of force was justified?

In today's political climate, any case involving police actions and the usage of firearms is sure to generate at least a small amount of controversy. It is essential that a responsible firearm owner works with an experienced criminal defense attorney when facing serious allegations such as those above. A conviction could lead to serious consequences that make it harder to own firearms in the future.

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