Can I legally shoot someone potentially killing them if they break into my home while my family and I are in it?

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Can I legally shoot someone potentially killing them if they break into my home while my family and I are in it?

I was under the impression that I would be protected by the Castle Doctrine (i.e. if I were to

shoot a home invader who was illegally dwelling in my home). I know if they are retreating and I shoot them in the back, my odds are not good. However, if they are approaching me or within my general vicinity and I fear for my life or well being, am I legally allowed to shoot them, possibly killing them? Or will I be sentenced for murder? I know there can be any amount of variables to these types of situations including whether they are armed, under the influence, etc. but I appreciate any answers. I should also note that the firearm that I’m shooting with is legally owned, registered and does not violate any gun laws.

Asked on May 31, 2016 under Criminal Law, Massachusetts

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

It's all about how reasonable the fear for you life is--and no, them simply being in your vicinity in the home or approaching you does not, by itself, justify shooting them. If the intruder, for example, walks over to you calmly, without a weapon, and makes no threatening moves, you can't shoot them--you can, of course, call 911 if someone trespasses into or breaks into your home, which is what you should do: this is a job for the police. It is only when there is an *imminent* and *reasonable* threat of bodily injury to yourself or another that you can shoot. All the castle doctrine means is that if there is a reasonable threat of imminent harm, that you don't have to run away if you're in your own home--but there still has to be that reasonable threat of imminent harm.
"Reasonable" means the average reasonable person would have perceived the threat.
"Imminent" means immediate. So for example, say that you are going to testify in a criminal case against Bob. His brother Jim walks into you home and says, "If you testify, I will kill you after trial." That is not imminent--it's off in the future. You call the police about Jim--you don't shoot him.


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