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Massachusetts Self-Defense Laws

People generally have a legal right to physically defend themselves when they feel threatened. It's important to be aware, however, that self-defense laws vary from state to state. Some states impose a duty to retreat before using force to defend oneself, while other states have "stand your ground laws," which don't impose such a duty. There are also states that have a combination of stand your ground and duty to retreat laws as they recognize the "castle doctrine," which removes the requirement to retreat when defending yourself in your home, place of business, or sometimes even your car.

Understanding Self-Defense Laws in Massachusetts

The self-defense laws in Massachusetts include the castle doctrine, meaning that when defending yourself in your "dwelling," you aren't required to first try to retreat. But, in other circumstances, a person is required to retreat before using force.

It's important to note that under the law, dwelling is defined as a building that's a permanent or temporary residence, which means that tents, motor homes, and boats may not qualify as a dwelling where the doctrine would apply. It's also important to be aware that common areas of building - such as the hall of an apartment - doesn't fall under the castle doctrine. Finally, as with virtually all self-defense laws, the force used must be "reasonably necessary" under the circumstances and if deadly force is used, the person must have "reasonably and actually believe that they were in "immediate danger of great bodily harm or death."

Massachusetts Self-Defense Laws at a Glance

It's no surprise that any legal research should involve looking at the literal language of the laws that apply. But, what may be surprising is the amount of time and energy it can take to decipher the statutes, which are often written in dense legal speak. What can help to reduce the time it takes to understand these statutes is a summary that's written in plain English. In the chart that follows you can find links to relevant statutes as well as a brief overview of self-defense laws in Massachusetts.


Massachusetts General Laws, Part IV, Title II, Chapter 278, Section 8A (Killing or Injuring a Person Unlawfully in a Dwelling: Defense)

The Castle Doctrine

It's a valid defense to prosecution if the defendant injured or killed a person who was unlawfully in the defendant's dwelling, if the defendant:

  • Acted in the reasonable belief that the intruder was about to inflict great bodily injury or death on the defendant or another person who was lawfully in the dwelling; and
  • Used reasonable means to defend themselves or the other person lawfully in the dwelling.

As previously mentioned, there's no duty to retreat before using force to defend yourself in your dwelling.

Related Statute(s)

Massachusetts General Laws, Part IV, Title I, Chapter 265:

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Massachusetts Self-Defense Laws: Related Resources

You can learn more information related to this topic by clicking the links below.

Have Questions About Massachusetts Self-Defense Laws? Talk to an Attorney

The use of force, even if deadly, may be justifiable or excusable under certain circumstances. So, if you've been charged with injuring or killing someone, it's best to reach out to a local criminal defense attorney who can review your specific situation and determine if Massachusetts self-defense laws apply to your case.

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