He Says He Stabbed a Student to Defend His Home. His Home Is a Box.

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Each night, Joseph Matos builds his home on the East Side by placing several cardboard boxes on the ground for cushioning and then linking together a half dozen others so he can fit inside to sleep.

One night in October 2018, he said, he was jolted from his slumber by a thud, followed by another. Startled, he leapt outside and grabbed a knife. A college student, walking by with a friend, had kicked Mr. Matos’s box because he thought it was trash, investigators said. What happened next could send Mr. Matos, 57, to prison for more than a decade. Mr. Matos faces assault charges for stabbing one of the men and slashing the other, but he is fighting the case with an unusual argument: His lawyers say he was defending his home against attackers. Under New York’s “castle doctrine,” a person has a right to protect his home with deadly force if he reasonably believes another person is entering without permission and is seeking to commit a crime. The defense hinges partly on whether a collection of cardboard boxes is a home.


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