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Lethal Force Laws

The following cases justifying lethal force in PA, NJ, and DE are only generalizations. Each law is riddled with qualifying language, and it is too long and complex to explain in this article. These are basic rules, but you can always check into specifics for your state. I’m only listing Lethal Force Laws for PA, NJ, and DE, because this is my tri-state area.

First, I’ll take a moment to define the basic characteristics of ANY justifiable homicide. They are:

1) Death or serious bodily injury is threatened, or the defender reasonably believes it is.

2) The threat is imminent, here and now. The threat or fear of some future deadly intent alone will not justify deadly force

3) The threat is UNLAWFUL

4) Deadly force is reasonably believed to be required to end the threat

Now note the abundant use of the word “reasonably”. That does not mean just reasonable to YOU, but it essentially means “Can you make the jury think that your use of deadly force was REASONABLE”.

Deadly force is justifiedPA NJ DE
in defense of selfXXX
in defense of ANY other personXXX
Deadly force is justified to preventPA NJ DE
robbery, rape or kidnappingXXX
a forceable felonyX
A defender can stand his groundPA NJ DE
to prevent arson of habitationXXX
to prevent property theftX
to prevent felony propX

Note that in most states, you are required to retreat from a lethal situation if that is a safe alternative to using deadly force. The one “exception” to Lethal Force Laws is in the case of invasion of the home: Lethal force is justified when any unlawful intruder into your home poses a believable threat. This is to say that for the most part, any burgler, who displays ANY form of “weapon”, down to things like the crow bar he jimmied your door with, can be shot.

Also note that in most situations, non-lethal force is much easier to beat the rap on than deadly force.


A junkie punk breaks into your house. While you have legal justification to kill him, if you just shoot him in the knees, so he can never walk again without again, you’ve still put him in extreme pain for the rest of his life, and you’re much more likly to beat the rap.


If you utilize lethal force on ANYONE, you will most likly be charged with murder in the second degree, and you will have to plead “Not guilty by reason of…” and whatever justification you intend to use. Thus, if you cannot justify to a jury that your lethal force was warrented and required, you could be convicted of MURDER 2.

I hope that this basic information regarding Lethal Force Laws has proved to be of some help in your research conquest. Peace.

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