Pennsylvania Suggested Standard Jury Instructions


(Effective for cases arising subsequent to August 27, 2011)

1. The evidence in this case presents the question of whether the defendant acted in self-defense when [he] [she] [description of defendant’s conduct]. Self-defense is called “justification” in the law of Pennsylvania. If the defendant’s actions were “justified,” you cannot find [him] [her] guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Since the Commonwealth has the burden of proof in this case, the Commonwealth must prove to you that the defendant did not act in justifiable self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

2. To carry its burden of proving that the defendant’s use of force was not justifiable self-defense in this case, the Commonwealth must prove [the following element] [one of the following elements] beyond a reasonable doubt. [The court should give only those supported by facts of record]:

a. That at the time the defendant used the force, either:

(i) the defendant did not actually believe [he] [she] needed to use force to protect [himself] [herself] from unlawful force by another at that moment; or

(ii) that while the defendant actually believed [he] [she] needed to use such force, [his] [her] belief was unreasonable in light of all the circumstances known to [him] [her].

Keep this in mind: a person is justified in using force against another not only when they are in actual danger of unlawful attack but also when they mistakenly, but reasonably, believe that they are. A person is entitled to estimate the necessity for the force he or she employs under the circumstances as he or she reasonably believes them to be at the time. In the heat of conflict, a person who has been attacked ordinarily has neither time nor composure to evaluate carefully the danger and make nice judgments about exactly how much force is needed to protect himself or herself. Consider the realities of the situation faced by the defendant here when you assess whether the Commonwealth has proved beyond a reasonable doubt either that he or she did not believe he or she was actually in danger of unlawful force to the extent that he or she needed to use such force in self-defense, or that, while he or she did believe that, his or her belief was unreasonable.

Unlawful force means force, including confinement,

(i) that is employed without the consent of the person against whom it is directed; and

(ii) is force that constitutes an offense or actionable tort [or would constitute such offense or tort except for a defense (such as the absence of intent, negligence, or mental capacity; duress; youth; or diplomatic status) not amounting to a privilege to use the force].

[To be used only where applicable: The Commonwealth may seek to prove that the defendant’s use of confinement was not a justified use of force in this case. To accomplish this, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant failed to take all reasonable measures to end the alleged victim’s confinement as soon as the defendant knew [he] [she] could do so in complete safety. Of course, if the alleged victim had been arrested for some offense and confined according to law, the defendant would not be responsible for such period of confinement.]

b. That, in the same encounter with [name of alleged victim], the defendant provoked the use of force against [him] [her] by engaging in conduct that demonstrated that [he] [she] intended to use unlawful force.

To make this determination, you must find the following:

(i) That the defendant engaged in conduct that showed it was [his] [her] conscious object to use unlawful force against the alleged victim, [name of alleged victim] [or someone else in the immediate proximity of the alleged victim].

(ii) That the actions of the defendant provoked the similar use of force against [him] [her]. In this assessment, the conduct by the defendant may be the initial provocation of the fight, or it may be an act that continues or escalates it. However, even if the defendant, who was the initial aggressor, or was the person who escalated the incident, thereafter withdraws in good faith, making it clear that [his] [her] further intentions are peaceable, and the alleged victim pursues [him] [her] and renews the fight, the defendant does not forfeit [his] [her] right to claim justifiable self-defense.

3. Unless the Commonwealth proves one of these two elements, the use of non-deadly force by the defendant is justified and you must find [him] [her] not guilty of the offense of [type of offense]. If the Commonwealth does prove one of the elements beyond a reasonable doubt, the actions of the defendant are not justified.