Useful Legal Trivia for Today’s Time

It’s worth noting, given rioting and flash mobs, that under Pennsylvania law:

(1)  The use of force upon or toward the person of another is justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary to prevent such other person from committing suicide, inflicting serious bodily injury upon himself, committing or consummating the commission of a crime involving or threatening bodily injury, damage to or loss of property or a breach of the peace, except that:

(i)  Any limitations imposed by the other provisions of this chapter on the justifiable use of force in self-protection, for the protection of others, the protection of property, the effectuation of an arrest or the prevention of an escape from custody shall apply notwithstanding the criminality of the conduct against which such force is used.

(ii)  The use of deadly force is not in any event justifiable under this subsection unless:

(A)  the actor believes that there is a substantial risk that the person whom he seeks to prevent from committing a crime will cause death or serious bodily injury to another unless the commission or the consummation of the crime is prevented and that the use of such force presents no substantial risk of injury to innocent persons; or

(B)  the actor believes that the use of such force is necessary to suppress a riot or mutiny after the rioters or mutineers have been ordered to disperse and warned, in any particular manner that the law may require, that such force will be used if they do not obey.

(2)  The justification afforded by this subsection extends to the use of confinement as preventive force only if the actor takes all reasonable measures to terminate the confinement as soon as he knows that he safely can, unless the person confined has been arrested on a charge of crime.

Emphasis is mine. I’ve always taken this section to mean that it’s lawful to use deadly force to disperse rioters, provided the law is followed in this case. I don’t know what “any particular manner the law may require” might mean, and it would not surprise me if no one else knows either. Would this mean putting up a sign in front of your store, during a riot, warning that looters will be shot would suffice as legal warning under this statute? This section is in a part of Pennsylvania law outline the use of force in law enforcement, but this particular section does not limit itself to peace officers.

Generally speaking, I wouldn’t suggest treating any mob or riot situation like a free fire zone; escape is the best strategy if possible. But if not, this statute may provide you with more legal protection in the event you have to shoot your way out of a violent mob, and the government decides they don’t like you trying to survive without their good help. It’s good, at least, to know it’s there.

11 thoughts on “Useful Legal Trivia for Today’s Time”

  1. I suspect it’s the “You are ordered to disperse” type order that is normally required before the military is allowed to use force in a civil disturbance.

    It’s the literal ‘reading the riot act’.

  2. “escape is the best strategy if possible”

    Disagree. Sometimes, it might be. But when the mob is threatening to burn down your house, where will you escape to and when the threat is over and your house in ashes, where will you return to.

    I don’t like large crowds of people for a reason. But look at England – some those people retreated and lost everything.

    Incoming fire might not make enough difference, but in your home or place of business, it might make enough.

  3. I wouldn’t blame anyone for defending their home. I was speaking more if you’re caught out on the streets by a mob.

  4. Two points are worth consideration about the English situation.

    First, the police suggest that prey run from the mobs. This ignores WHERE people are expected to run to and HOW they are expected to run. Most of the targets of rioters don’t have alternative housing and rely on public transport for their mobility, which leaves them about as exposed as they were before, IF it is running.

    The urban planner dream of high-density populations in city centers where no one “needs” a device for personal transportation is perhaps not such a great idea for the future.

    Secondly, the police sniff about doing their job with the “consent of the neighborhoods”. I guess since the rioters no longer consent to policing, the police will confine themselves to making detailed reports. This is a logical end game to the decision some years ago that certain criminal acts would not be cited or dealt with other than to tell the yob to cease and go home.

    The UK has lead the “developed” countries in violent crime per capita since 1993. A disarmed populace is not a civiilzed one, whatever social theorists think or say. Will such smarties be held accountable for their experiment’s failure? Will they change? I expect “no” to both questions.

  5. I think that as of August 27th, the new Castle Doctrine law (in PA) clarifies a situation like a riot further.

    From the link to State Rep Tim Mahoney that Sebastian provided the other day:

    In any other place where the individual has a right to be: If you are not engaged in a criminal activity and are attacked, you do not have a duty to retreat. You have the right to “stand your ground” and use deadly force – provided the following criteria are all met.

    You have a right to be in the place where you are attacked.

    You believe the use of force is immediately necessary to protect against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or rape.

    The person you use deadly force against displays or otherwise uses a firearm or a replica of a firearm, or any other weapon readily capable of lethal use.

    You are not illegally in possession of a firearm.

    The person you use deadly force against is not someone that you knew was, or should have known was, a peace officer.

    The “Stand Your Ground” part of the law should provide defense. Not to mention protection from civil law suits for killing someone’s “good boy”.

  6. I don’t know what “any particular manner the law may require” might mean,

    Might not be a bad question to ask your state AG.

  7. “in any particular manner that the law may require” probably modifies the “after the rioters or mutineers have been ordered to disperse and warned” e.g. there may be a law stating that a bullhorn must be used to warn rioters to disperse or face violence. To me, the idea is to not give a legal justification to immediately spraying into a crowd and claiming “we warned them by whispering. There is no legal requirement on how we must warn them to disperse, and so by the text of the law… blah blah blah”

  8. Almost inclined to keep a blank round on my person.

    A warning shot is negligent. But a warning blank fired poses no negligence. I’d only view this strategy as viable in protecting a position (home, car, business).

    Facing a normal criminal, firing a warning
    shot or blank is foolish an dangerous. and offers little benefit.

    But riots function differently. They’re the product of group think. They do because others do. If enough are frightened to break & run the entire group of rioters may disperse. This is something I’d do from cover.

    Why not just shoot? Not all in the area may be involved. Some may be hawkers or victims. Shooting a rioter keeps the riot in place. Now you may also have associates bent on vengeance. You may have to take several down to disperse. (How many rounds in your mag? For some state residents it’s no more than 10.)

    Hence if you can disperse the crowd the better.

  9. A group of people hurling rocks and bottles at me is already using deadly force against me. A group of people attempting to set fire to my property is also using deadly force against me if I am in said property. I dont know that much more justification for shooting would be necessary.

  10. In David Milch’s Deadwood the manner prescribed was “Disperse this riotous assembly!”. If I recall my bar exam studies correctly, only a public official can order a riot to disperse in PA.

  11. The ability or legal justification to use force does NOT always equate to the strategic use of force. When at risk of a mob encounter, what you want more than anything is for ten to go away.

    Leaving a bloody body on the groud is not necessarily the best way to get a mob to depart or disperse.

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