Jahlil Okafor: Why it’s OK to “Stand Your Ground” in Philly but not Boston!Request a Free Consultation

Recently, Philadelphia 76er’s star rookie Jahil Okafor was allegedly involved in two physical altercations in Philadelphia and Boston. In Boston, the alleged victim claimed that Okafor attacked him outside a nightclub around 2 AM. The man promptly filed a report with Boston police, stating that Okafor punched him which resulted in a cut above his right eye, a potential simple or aggravated assault. Boston police are still looking into the incident but Okafor unwisely spoke to the media and possibly police after the incident. He should have watched my video on talking to police!

In his statement, Okafor didn’t exactly deny his culpability and some legal analysts, including myself, would view his statements as almost an admission of guilt! In his statement, the 76er said “[i]t’s something that I am embarrassed about. [I’m] still dealing with the league and the team. But I’m not happy about it at all.” Further, a video shows Okafor arguing with several individuals and punching a man. Okafor was allegedly involved in a similar situation in Philadelphia and these 2 incidents are a good example of the difference between Pennsylvania and Massachusetts law pertaining to assault and self-defense.  Our law firm handles a variety of offenses pertaining to assault and other violent felonies.

In Massachusetts, unlike Pennsylvania, there is a duty to retreat. A duty to retreat means that you can’t use force to defend yourself if you can safely avoid serious harm to yourself or the people in your care. Massachusetts has one of the most restrictive “Stand your Ground” laws. In Boston, unlike in Philadelphia, for example, Okafor had a duty to retreat unless he was in his own home or his “dwelling” like his hotel room. According to Massachusetts Law Ch 278, Section 8 A:

“In the prosecution of a person who is an occupant of a dwelling charged with killing or injuring one who was unlawfully in said dwelling, it shall be a defense that the occupant was in his dwelling at the time of the offense and that he acted in the reasonable belief that the person unlawfully in said dwelling was about to inflict great bodily injury or death upon said occupant or upon another person lawfully in said dwelling, and that said occupant used reasonable means to defend himself or such other person lawfully in said dwelling. There shall be no duty on said occupant to retreat from such person unlawfully in said dwelling. “

While it remains unknown and maybe unlikely that Okafor will ever face criminal charges in either Pennsylvania or Massachusetts, he is on much stronger ground in Pennsylvania because our Commonwealth, unlike that Commonwealth, has a much more expansive “Stand Your Ground” law. Pennsylvania allows the use of force, even deadly force outside the home with “no duty retreat.”

The incident in Philadelphia, however, appears much different. In that case, Okafor allegedly got into a verbal disagreement and a gun was pulled on him during that exchange. The alleged victim in Philadelphia, unlike in Boston, however, didn’t report it to police. While this person can still come forward, a criminal and civil complaint will get much weaker as time passes.

Like Pennsylvania, Massachusetts charges assault as felony or a misdemeanor depending on the victim’s injuries and the defendant’s intent. An aggravated assault is committed when the alleged perpetrator inflicts or attempts to inflict serious bodily injury. An aggravated assault can either be a felony of the second or first degree depending on the severity of the victim’s injuries or the circumstances surrounding the perpetrator’s intent. Pennsylvania and Massachusetts also classifies some assaults as misdemeanors which are defined as “unlawful touching” The law calls this a simple assault.

Despite these reports and the video, I believe that alleged Boston victim is looking to a file a civil lawsuit given Okafor’s obvious financial means and his celebrity status. Remember, that the evidentiary standards in criminal (guilt beyond a reasonable doubt) and civil courts are much different. Okafor’s statements alone may be enough to satisfy the civil burden of proof (preponderance of the evidence) which is why it’s always better to say nothing from a criminal or a civil standpoint. If you have more questions about criminal law concepts, try one of my books on the free resource page.