Due to the recent surge in mass shootings and the resulting gun debate, the term “stand your ground” has frequently been in the news. In stand your ground states, such as Florida and Texas, an individual can use force, without retreating, to protect himself against a threat. In these states, shooting an attacker would generally be considered within your rights if you feared for your safety. Massachusetts, however, is not a stand your ground state.
MA is a “duty to retreat” state, which means that you cannot use deadly force—even in self-defense—if you can reasonably avoid harm by retreating (such as running away). If, however, you are cornered, or otherwise unable to retreat, you are legally allowed to use deadly force if your life is threatened. A MA defense attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with a crime.
Although MA is a duty to retreat state, that duty does not apply to home intruders. Due to a MA statute called Castle Doctrine, there is no duty to retreat when the intruder is in your home. Some states apply the Castle Doctrine to areas outside of the home, such as the driveway. In MA, when the killing takes place in the defendant’s driveway, or on a porch or outside staircase, the doctrine does not apply. Nor does it apply to invited guests, even if the guest threatens the defendant’s life. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule. For example, if an invited guest is asked to leave, pretends to leave, gets a gun from his car and comes back, his status as an invited “guest” will change to trespasser.
People are allowed—by law—to defend themselves against the threat of physical harm. In fact, many people charged with murder or another violent crime often cite self-defense as the reason for their action. However, in order for this defense to work, the defendant must be able to show that a real threat existed. A Boston defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with any type of crime.
Was Your Action Proportionate to the Threat?
In both stand your ground and duty to retreat states, the type of self defense used against an intruder must not exceed the threat. For example, if you come downstairs for a midnight snack and find an unarmed burglar in your kitchen, shooting him ten times will likely be perceived as excessive. However, if you wake up to find an intruder standing over your bed, gun in hand, you will probably be justified if you grab a gun from your nightstand and shoot him. This would also be true if it was later discovered that the intruder was wielding a fake pistol. It’s the perceived threat, not the actual threat, that matters.
If your self defense is not proportionate to the threat, this is known as imperfect self defense. No state gives you the right to attack without cause, and within each stand your ground state, a person’s right to use lethal force varies. Continue reading