What Are the Rules on Self Defense in Massachusetts?
July 13, 2023
If you are facing criminal charges as a result of trying to defend yourself, your loved ones, or your property, you may consider using “self-defense” to avoid a conviction. However, there are times when claiming self-defense may do more harm than good, especially when used in instances where this defense does not apply.
For this reason, it is crucial that you understand the rules on self-defense in Massachusetts before using this defense in your case. As a criminal defense attorney at the Law Office of Joseph M Pacella, I understand how to assert a self-defense claim successfully. After more than 20 years in practice, I have learned the intricacies and nuances of this defense. I have an office in Springfield, Massachusetts, but handle criminal cases in Amherst, Westfield, Palmer, Northampton, and other parts of Western and Central Massachusetts.
Self-Defense Laws in Massachusetts
Massachusetts law recognizes your right to act in self-defense. The term “self-defense” refers to a person’s right to protect themselves from suffering violence or harm through the use of a sufficient and reasonable level of force. However, there are many rules that govern the use of self-defense in criminal cases.
The Duty to Retreat
Massachusetts law prohibits you from acting in self-defense unless you have exhausted all other reasonable efforts before resorting to force. This concept is known as the duty to retreat. In other words, it means that you are legally required to try getting out of the situation without the use of force before resorting to force.
The Commonwealth will examine the facts of your case to determine whether or not you would have been able to escape by getting to safety, walking away, calling for help, holding the attacker at bay, or through other available and reasonable means. Each situation is unique and should be evaluated by a skilled attorney to determine whether or not you had the duty to retreat in your case.
The Castle Doctrine
When you are lawfully occupying your apartment, house, or another dwelling, you can lawfully act in self-defense and are not required to retreat before using force. However, for the castle doctrine to apply, the following circumstances must exist: (1) you reasonably believe the intruder is about to inflict serious bodily injury or death on you or anyone lawfully on the property, and (2) you used reasonable means to defend yourself and/or others in the dwelling.
Stand Your Ground
Under this doctrine, anyone who believes their life is in danger can lawfully use deadly force. Unlike some other states, Massachusetts does not have a stand-your-ground law. Instead, you have a duty to retreat before using deadly force outside of your dwelling.
Another self-defense rule to consider before using this defense in your case refers to reasonable force. Under Massachusetts law, you cannot lawfully act in self-defense if you fail to use reasonable force in the circumstances of the incident. What amount of force is considered “reasonable” depends on your situation and varies greatly from one case to another. However, if the Commonwealth can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the amount of force used in self-defense was excessive and unreasonable, your self-defense claim will be dismissed.
Given the above-mentioned rules on self-defense in Massachusetts, there are certain elements you need to prove when using this defense in your case:
You did everything reasonable to avoid using force (e.g., attempting to retreat) before the act of self-defense occurred;
You reasonably believed that your safety was in immediate danger and that the attacker would or had the capacity to cause bodily injury or death; and
The amount of force used was proportionate to the level of threat and was reasonably necessary for defense.
Proving the above-mentioned elements of self-defense can be challenging without the assistance of a knowledgeable attorney. As a criminal defense attorney, I can help you prepare a valid self-defense case tailored to your unique circumstances.
Understand Your Right to Defend Yourself
If you are facing criminal charges after defending yourself, your loved ones, or your property, it is critical that you understand the rules on self-defense in Massachusetts. If you have questions about self-defense, reach out to the Law Office of Joseph M Pacella to get legal guidance. I am here to explain the nuances of self-defense and help you navigate the legal system with confidence. Reach out to my office today to request a free consultation.