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Rare SYG Decision in PA

February 12th, 2018

Commonwealth v. Williams had so many other things going on with it that I missed the Stand Your Ground aspect of it when it was issued on December 8, 2017.  Since decisions on SYG have been few and far between since SYG was adopted in PA a decade ago, it’s worth taking a look at.  Williams involved a claim of SYG when the defendant was “engaged in a criminal activity.”  It also involved being “in illegal possession of a firearm.”  SYG may not be invoked when either is true.

The appellate court only adopted the trial court’s reasoning and did not really discuss this issue further.  However, the trial court’s reasoning made clear that the defendant was precluded from raising a SYG defense because he was in illegal possession of a weapon (“Since Appellant clearly was in illegal possession of the firearm, he could not stand his ground and use deadly force”).  Of course, a person in possession of a license to carry firearms should generally not have to worry about being in illegal possession of a firearm.  However, if you carry, you should take care to be aware where you cannot carry even with a valid license to carry firearms.  Under the law, if you were carrying even with a valid permit in a location where carry was prohibited, you would (legally speaking) be in illegal possession of a firearm under Section 505(c)(2.3).

While I think the argument is more tenuous, there is nothing stopping a prosecutor from arguing someone is “engaged in a criminal activity” when they are in illegal possession of a firearm or other prohibited offensive weapon, even if that weapon was not used during the incident.  In other words, take care that your pepper spray, folding knife, key chain “kubotan,” and other EDC items are in fact legal in your jurisdiction and where you are specifically located.  The Prohibited Offensive Weapons statute (18 Pa.C.S. § 908) has a laundry list of items that are illegal to carry in Pennsylvania.

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