Self-Defense as a Criminal Defense Strategy

Texas is one of several states with a stand-your-ground law, which means you’re allowed to defend yourself without having to retreat if you’re in a threatening situation. However, it’s important to understand the distinction between self-defense and using unnecessary force.

If you’re facing criminal charges or are being investigated, you might be wondering about the rules for self-defense in Texas. Understanding these principles is crucial for anyone dealing with criminal charges where self-defense might be relevant.

What Is Self-Defense?  

Self-defense is a legal concept in criminal law that allows individuals to use reasonable force to protect themselves, others, or their property from immediate danger. In Texas, like in 28 other states, there is no duty to retreat under self-defense laws, meaning you can defend yourself without having to run away if you’re in a place you need to be.

However, using self-defense to justify your actions in a criminal case has strict rules. It can be used as a defense for charges like assault, battery, or murder, but it’s important to remember that claiming self-defense means admitting you used force.

Requirements for Claiming Self-Defense

Meeting specific criteria is essential to using self-defense as a legal defense. To establish self-defense successfully, you must prove the following:

1. Imminent Threat

To successfully claim self-defense or defending another person, the danger must have been immediate, causing fear of immediate harm to the defendant or the person defended. This can be shown by words or actions indicating a threat. However, just offensive language is not enough for a self-defense claim.

Also, self-defense or defense of others is only allowed while the threat continues. Once the threat is over, using force is no longer acceptable. This would be seen as revenge, not self-defense.

2. Reasonable Belief That Harm Exists

Both self-defense and defending others require that the fear prompting someone to act with force be reasonable. This means you must show evidence that you were in imminent danger of being killed, injured, or touched, based on what a reasonable person would believe in that situation.

When someone’s response doesn’t meet this standard but genuinely fears harm, it’s called imperfect self-defense. This won’t completely excuse the crime, but some states may consider it when deciding on charges or punishment.

3. Proportionate Force Response

This is crucial when it comes to using deadly force. In a self-defense claim, you can’t use deadly force to counter a threat that wasn’t deadly itself.

It’s important to note that in Texas, a defendant must try to avoid using deadly force by leaving a threatening situation if possible, especially if it’s outside their property. Only after trying to retreat from the violent situation can a defendant use deadly force.

4. Not the Initial Aggressor 

You cannot claim self-defense if you initiated the fight. If you provoked or began the confrontation, you might lose your right to self-defense.

Limitations of Claims

In some cases, you are not allowed to claim self-defense as a legal defense. These include:

  1. If you only responded to words without being physically threatened.
  2. If you consented to the force against you.
  3. If you started the conflict (except if you attempted to stop it).
  4. If you possess a weapon illegally.
  5. If you resisted a police officer during an unlawful search or arrest (unless the officer used too much force first).

Types of Self-Defense in Texas

In Texas, several types of self-defense laws protect individuals who use force to defend themselves or others:

Stand Your Ground (Texas Penal Code Subchapter C)

Sometimes called “shoot first” laws, which means that individuals do not have an obligation to retreat before using force in self-defense. In the event of an assault, fleeing isn’t your only option; you have the right to stand your ground and protect yourself. You can use an appropriate amount of force to protect yourself. As long as you weren’t doing any crime in any place where you have a right to be when you defended yourself.

Castle Doctrine (Texas Penal Code Subchapter D)

The Castle Doctrine in Texas allows individuals to use force, including deadly force, to defend themselves in their homes, vehicles, and workplaces without a duty to retreat.

Deadly Force (Texas Penal Code Sec. 9.32)

The Castle Doctrine says you don’t have to run away from your home, or “castle,” before using force to protect yourself or others. If someone unlawfully enters your home, you can use force, even deadly force, if you reasonably fear immediate harm.

Duty to Retreat 

While Texas does not have a general duty to retreat, there are some situations where a person may be required to retreat before using force, such as if they are the initial aggressor or if they are in a place where they are unlawfully present.

Civil Consequences of Self-Defense

While Texas self-defense laws offer protection for individuals who use force to defend themselves or others, it’s important to understand that using force, particularly deadly force, can result in civil repercussions. Even if someone’s actions are considered legal, they could still be sued for damages by the other person or their family. This means that even if someone isn’t charged with a crime or is found not guilty in a criminal trial, they could still be responsible for paying money in a civil lawsuit.

For an action to qualify as self-defense, you must have believed you were protecting yourself, others, or property from immediate danger. You must also have used a reasonable amount of force. Other significant factors in Texas self-defense laws include the Stand Your Ground Law and the Castle Doctrine.

Arrested? Don’t Plea, Call Me!

Understanding self-defense laws in Texas can be tricky. While they offer protection for those defending themselves or others, they also have complexities and potential civil consequences. If you’re in a self-defense situation, especially with force or deadly force, consult a criminal defense attorney.

An attorney can explain your rights, assess your situation, and advise you on the best course of action. They can also help you navigate any civil consequences that might arise. With their guidance, you can make informed decisions and ensure you’re protected under the law.