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Hi. I have a hypothetical question that hopefully I'll never need the answer to. I own a home and I live there with my wife and two kids. If I wake up in the night and find someone in my house with a knife or gun can I shoot them? I was told there's some crazy law in Massachusetts that says I have to try to escape or try to retreat from the house rather than trying to defend myself and my family. That can't be right because how can I defend my family by escaping? I'd have to try and run around and get all my family together and then get out.

 
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Self-defense in MA

I believe there is a difference in the law of self defense in Massachusetts between incidents occuring withing the "defender's" house or dwelling and incidents occuring outside of the dwelling.  First, when outside of the dwelling, in an assault and battery situation, for example, Massachusetts law recognizes the defense of self-defense if the person asserting that defense: (1) reasonably beleieved that he was being, or about to be, attacked; (2) used reasonable or proportional force (no shooting someone who slaps your face), and (3) made reasonable efforts to avoid the use of force. 

That last requirement may, in some cases, place a burden on the defender to retreat from the scene if he can reasonably do so.  This is the duty to retreat that you may have heard of. However, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 278, Section 8A, in discussing the right of self defense and the killing or injuring of a person who is unlawfully in a dwelling, allows the ocupant of the dwelling to use force, even deadly force, if he reasonably believed that the unlawfull entrant was about to inflict "great bodily injury or death" upon the ocupant and others lawfully in the house.  Section 8A specifically states that there is no duty to retreat in such a situation.  Note, however, that we are talking about the INSIDE of the dwelling.  You cannot chase a burglar into the yard and then shoot him in the back.  Hope that helps.

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