What does it mean to defend property?
In Massachusetts, the law permits you defend your property against someone who has no right to it, as long as you use reasonable but not deadly force. According to one case, Commonwealth v. Lindsey, 396 Mass. 840, self-defense is available when there is an immediate need to resort to force.
This post will answer some frequently asked questions about defense of property.
Am I allowed to defend my property against an intruder?
A person may use reasonable force, but not deadly force, to defend his or her lawful property against someone who has no right to it. Note that self-defense is a separate legal issue from defense of property.
Am I allowed to regain lost property that belonged to me?
A person may also use reasonable force, but not deadly force, to regain lawful possession of his or her property where someone who has no right to the property has momentarily interrupted his or her possession.
Am I allowed to use force to remove a trespasser?
A person may also use reasonable force, but not deadly force, to remove a trespasser from his or her property after the trespasser has been requested to leave and has refused to do so. Note that trespass raises a separate legal issue from defense of property.
How does the government show that someone used illegal force to regain a property?
The defendant is NOT GUILTY of illegally using force to regain his or her property from someone who has no right to it unless the Commonwealth has proved one of the two following elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt:
- That a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would not have believed that force was necessary in order to defend, regain possession of, or remove a trespasser from his or her property
- That the defendant used force that was deadly or unreasonable
Note that deadly force is legally considered to be force that is intended to, or likely to, kill or seriously injure someone. The term refers to the level of force the defendant used, not to the degree of injury, if any, to the alleged victim.
How much force is reasonable may vary with the situation. Exactness is not always possible and jurors may take into account whether the defendant had to decide how to respond quickly under pressure.
Any person who uses what amounts to clearly and unreasonable force becomes an aggressor and loses the right to act in defense of his or her property.
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE BEEN CHARGED UNLAWFULLY DEFENDING PROPERTY, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.
CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.