Every Texan has the right to defend themselves against the use of force or violence. That right not only applies to defending yourself, but also others, and in some cases, your home as well.
However, it’s important to know exactly how Texas laws are laid out when it comes to the level of force you are entitled to use, and the scenarios in which you can use it. Otherwise you may end up in your attorney’s office discussing defense strategies for assault charges.
In this post, we take a look at when the use of force is justified and when it crosses the line to assault according to Texas Penal Code. If you still have questions by the end, feel free to get in touch with our office.
Scenarios of Self-Defense in Texas
Texas Penal Code states that you are justified in using force against another person when you believe it is necessary to protect yourself. Specifically, you are entitled to use force to the same degree as the other party’s use or attempted use of unlawful force.
Here are the three primary conditions in which Texas allows you to use force against another person:
- Someone was unlawfully and forcefully entering or attempting to enter your home, vehicle, or place of business or employment
- Someone was unlawfully and forcefully removing or attempting to remove you from your home, vehicle, or place of business or employment
- Someone was committing or attempting to commit aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery
Keep in mind, an assault is only considered self-defense in these scenarios when the defender has not provoked the person against whom the force was used, and must not have been otherwise engaged in criminal activity beyond a traffic violation at the time.
Note, too, that Texas law also entitles you to use force to resist arrest or search when a peace officer (or any other person acting under the direction of the peace officer) uses greater force than necessary to make the arrest or perform the search – or when the defender reasonably believes they are using greater force than necessary.
Texas Self-Defense Laws: Tricky Situations
Sometimes we get into a situation and want to quickly back-pedal out, but it doesn’t work out the way we hope. If a person does provoke another party, but abandons the provocation and clearly communicates that intent to the one they’ve provoked, but the other party continues or attempts to continue to use unlawful force against that person, there may be a case for self-defense.
Additionally, under a portion of Texas self-defense law known as “Protection of Life or Health,” a person is justified in a) using force (but not deadly force) to prevent someone from committing suicide or inflicting serious bodily injury to him or herself, and b) using force (including deadly force) against another person when immediately necessary to preserve someone else’s life.
If a person has the right to be at the location where force is used, and has not provoked the person they used force against, and there is no other criminal activity happening at the time, that person is not required to retreat before using force. This will be further discussed below.
A seasoned defense attorney will be able to evaluate your case and help navigate a defense in any of these more unique situations.
Stand Your Ground Law in Texas
You’ve heard the analogy that your home is your castle, and in many states, as king or queen of your castle, the law does not require a person to retreat from anyone who has no right to be in your home. In Texas, there is no duty to retreat, either. However, the legal term here is “stand your ground.”
Essentially, Texas Penal Code describes the use of equal (up to and including deadly) force as legal when you reasonably believe someone is attempting to use force in order to unlawfully enter your “habitation.”
However, there is a highly limited definition of what qualifies as a person’s habitation. It is the “structure or vehicle adapted for the overnight accommodation of persons; and includes each separately secured or occupied portion of the structure or vehicle; and each structure appurtenant to or connected with the structure or vehicle.”
For example, Texas would not consider a detached garage a part of your “castle,” but if someone unlawfully and forcefully enters your attached front porch, you are well within your rights to “stand your ground.”
When Texas Says It’s Not Self-Defense
There are some situations in which the use of force is never justified in a court of law. When someone is only verbally provoked – no sign of a weapon, no physical contact or threat of physical contact – the use of force is always considered assault.
Also, when the actor brandishes (or even simply possesses) any kind of weapon while discussing differences between him- or herself and the other party, it is never justified as self-defense.
Ultimately, no matter your circumstances, the law here says you have a right to claim self-defense when charged with a violent crime. The question of whether your actions constitute assault or self-defense is for the courts to decide.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.