Can a box be considered a “home” and defended with deadly force under New York’s castle doctrine?
A judge in New York will decide exactly that in a case involving a homeless man who stabbed two college students after they kicked the boxes he sleeps in on the East Side.
“I didn’t do anything wrong. They should be prosecuting those two guys,” Joseph Matos said in an interview with the New York Times. He’s referring to Jorge Morales and Jose Bosch, two students from Guatemala who attend Boston College.
One night in 2018, Morales and Bosch were out drinking and looking for a strip club, according to court documents obtained by the Times. Walking past the boxes where Matos was sleeping, Morales kicked one of the boxes.
“I was pretty drunk, so I don’t remember some stuff,” Morales said. “Jose told me I kicked the box where he was sleeping, and that’s the reason he got mad.”
Morales claims he thought the boxes were trash and didn’t know anyone was in them. But Matos says he believed his life was in danger, which is why he grabbed a knife and attacked the two students. Matos claims the students came back to confront him.
“When he goes past me, he rubs his shoulder at my chest like, like, ‘You ain’t nothin’,’ and like, ‘Yes, so what?’” Mr. Matos told investigators.
But prosecutors say that Matos was the aggressor and acted out of revenge rather than self-defense. They say he chased after the young men, stabbing one of them in his shoulder and back, lacerating his liver, and slashing the other above the eye.
In this telling of the story, Matos’ castle doctrine defense likely would not apply since he was away from his “home” at the time of the attack.
Even if Matos’ version of the events is true, the district attorney’s office argues in court documents that the man’s box does not meet the legal definition of a home because it was “not a permanent structure with walls and a roof.”
New York’s penal code, which would likely dictate whether Matos’ box constitutes a “home,” defines “building” and “dwelling” as follows:
“Building,” in addition to its ordinary meaning, includes any structure, vehicle or watercraft used for overnight lodging of persons, or used by persons for carrying on business therein, or used as an elementary or secondary school, or an inclosed motor truck, or an inclosed motor truck trailer. Where a building consists of two or more units separately secured or occupied, each unit shall be deemed both a separate building in itself and a part of the main building.
“Dwelling” means a building which is usually occupied by a person lodging therein at night.
While New York has a castle doctrine, it is not a “stand your ground” state, which means that Matos had a duty to retreat if possible. According to the Times, Mr. Matos admitted to investigators that he could have walked away and never said he thought the two young men were armed.