Deadly Force and The Right of Self-Defense in Your Home in Massachusetts

September 9, 2011

On September 7, 2011 an 82-year-old man allegedly shot and wounded a man and a woman from the second floor window of his home in Revere, Massachusetts. The elderly man was subsequently arraigned on serious criminal charges of assault with intent to murder and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. However, despite the nature of the charges filed by police and the fact that he will be prosecuted, the judge released the man on personal recognizance (his promise to appear in court on all future dates). The incident was reported in the Boston Globe.

The facts of the case as alleged in the Revere police report suggest that the pair came to the defendant's home earlier in an attempt to get in the home and that the defendant had called the police to report the incident. A window was allegedly broken during the incident by the woman. Presently, officials are still trying to determine if they will file charges against the pair under the circumstances. So how does the man get released just on his promise to appear back in court on such serious charges, especially where he allegedly said to the police that "he screwed up and shot them"? What does the law say about the use of deadly force under such circumstances?

Under M.G.L. c. 278 s. 8A, when someone is shot or killed by an occupant of a dwelling it is a defense that the occupant was in his home at the time of the offense and that he acted in the reasonable belief that the person(s) were about to inflict great bodily injury or death upon him or another person lawfully in the home, and that he used reasonable means to defend himself or the other person lawfully in the home. This is known as the "Castle Doctrine." Under the law there is no duty on the occupant to retreat from such person(s) unlawfully in the dwelling. Although there are many other considerations under the bail statute in Massachusetts for a judge to consider in releasing a person accused of crime, I believe that the law of self-defense in the home was a controlling factor in the judge's decision to release him simply on his promise to appear back in court when scheduled.

In considering the issue as to whether this elderly man had reasonable grounds to believe and did believe that he was in "imminent danger of deal or serious bodily harm" the jury, if the case gets that far, may consider any evidence as to the various circumstances existing at the time of the incident which resulted in the injury to the man and woman and such circumstances on the issue of what the defendant's state of mind was at the time. If the prosecutor fails to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense then he must be acquitted.

The Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy is committed to zealously representing all individuals charges with crimes anywhere in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Attorney Murphy is experienced in aggressively defending client's charged with assault-based crimes and utilizing all defenses available including self-defense in the home. Contact Attorney Murphy today to receive a free consultation regarding the specifics of your case. You may reach Attorney Murphy at 617-367-0450 or by email though filling out the contacts tab on the website.