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

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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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


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 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.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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