The castle doctrine is currently still the law in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, judges try to undermine it every time it comes up.
Since the case in question is well-known in the pro-self-defense political activist circles within Massachusetts, I'll add what I can to shed some light on the case of Commonwealth vs. Shaffer
I don't claim to have any personal knowledge of the case. So the items that are not part of the public record come to me through a friend who was fortunate enough to have known and worked with the arresting officer, the late Chief Al Horan.
After Gloria Shaffer was convicted of murder (some accounts said manslaughter, but it was 2nd murder), she was subsequently looked on as a martyr and the Massachusetts legislature passed the law allowing us to defend ourselves and our families in our homes. Prior to the Dukakis administration, the castle doctrine had not been a law because it was thought to be "common sense". Over the years with more liberal and socialist judges in Massachusetts, this right (that is even in the Massachusetts Constitution) was gradually eroded... and finally lost when Mike Dukakis became governor. Under his strong-arm statist tactics, the law became fundamentally, no
right to self-defense... PERIOD
. During this time, we were obligated to flee our own home and flee our attackers, it wasn't legal to defend yourself or family!
Gloria Shaffer was a battered wife who was separated from her husband. I don't know what their exact legal status was, except that they were not
living together when this happened. Apparently he had assaulted her a number of times and threatened her and their children's lives. This particular evening he broke into the house while Gloria was home and threatened to burn the house down with them in it "some evening while they slept". Gloria grabbed a shotgun and told him to leave. This enraged him further and he followed as she retreated into the basement with the children and locked the door. He still refused to leave, broke open the basement door and basically dared her to stop him... she shot him. (In a hollywierd movie, the cheers would rise, the audience would applaud and she'd live happily ever after... but this was reality and worse, it was during the Dukakis administration in Massachusetts.)
Chief Horan told my friend that it was personally upsetting to him to have to arrest her, but he was obligated to do so. (My personal opinion is that LEOs who enforce unConstitutional, unreasonable, or "bad" laws are despicable, but I digress...) After the trial, there was a groundswell of sympathy for Gloria and that got translated to a "home is our castle" law. Dukakis refused to pardon her, but part of Ed King's campaign was that he would
pardon her... which he did. (One of the best Governor's the Commonwealth has ever had. Damn nice man, and a fine shot to boot.
I only have one other comment on Alan K-san's initial post. The castle doctrine is not a myth. It is codified in MGL currently. There was a case, years earlier from PA (IIRC). In that case, a couple of officers drew weapons and shot a young black purse-snatcher. The crime committed by the perp was grabbing a woman's purse with all of ~$10 and change in it. When ordered to stop, the kid kept running and while scaling a chain-link fence, both officers shot him in the back. Even though the officers (as usual) were found "not guilty", it went to a Federal appeals court which stated that deadly force can not
be used to protect property. The only "myth" is that some
people still think they can protect their property with deadly force. There isn't a jurisdiction in the country (not even Kentucky, Texas, or Idaho) where that would fly. In every justified case, there must
be the defense of self or other innocents. In that regard, you can't just shoot someone for breaking into your house (there are other reasons why it's unwise as well)... However, if that perp knows that people are at home and refuses to leave, then it can be assumed that the perp is willing to cause death or grave bodily harm. What the "home is my castle" law states in Massachusetts is that you are not
obligated to retreat from your own home and can protect your family from the perp who refuses to leave. (Usually accepted as a threatening or hostile intent, but again being eroded by many socialist, activist judges.) That is why I have advocated the idea of a "safe room" to the members of these forums. Once the family is in the "safe room" you have done everything to separate yourself from the perp that is required by law... Additionally, if the perp makes the mistake of forcefully entering the "safe room", you have automatically established an "imminent threat of death or grave bodily harm
". (Meeting the criteria for the use of deadly force in every state of the Union.) Under the current law in Massachusetts, there really isn't any difference than Kentucky. Neither one requires you to retreat. Where the difference lies is in the court's actions. In Kentucky, someone breaks into your house and your go confront them and inturn kill the perp, there is a greater than 50/50 likelihood that it will be deemed self-defense. In Massachusetts, while there is no requirement to retreat, if you go and confront the perp and inturn kill them, there is a greater than 99% likelihood that you will be arrested for murder. Then
you have to prove
self-defense. Kiss the house, job, and everything else you own good-bye to pay for a damn good lawyer. So, I recommend setting things up to maximize your family's safety and ensure that if the perp must be stopped that it's obvious that there was a threat of imminent death or grave bodily harm
. (Yes, I word it that way specifically for a reason... that's a universally recognized legal criteria for the use of deadly force.) That's the difference.
[This message has been edited by Panther (edited December 18, 2000).]