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Texas Castle Law
What is the Castle Law in Texas? The Doctrine of Self-Defense
The castle law, or doctrine, is a common law theory that has existed for hundreds of years. The doctrine comes from the idea that a “man’s home is his castle,” and a person should not be forced to retreat from a place where they should feel safe. It is a concept that expresses basic human values of justice and fairness: a person should be able to protect themselves at home and not suffer the consequences of someone else’s crime.
The doctrine is not a single law, but a concept of self-defense that individual states may limit or expand as they see fit. In many states, a version of the castle doctrine has been adopted to allow the justified use of force against an intruder in your home or workplace, even if you have a way to get away from the situation, commonly called a “duty to retreat.” Other laws, called “stand-your-ground” laws, cover situations where an in individual is threatened with force, usually somewhere other than their home or workplace.
Using the concept of the castle doctrine, Texas has created some of the strongest self-defense and defense of property laws in the country. There is no single law that lays out the castle doctrine. Instead, it is included in the law in several provisions of the Penal Code that govern self-defense and the lawful use of force. The laws allow the justified use of force to protect yourself, others, and even property in certain situations.
How the Castle Doctrine in Texas Works
To understand how the castle law works, it is important to understand the underlying laws for self-defense and the use of force related to protecting others and property. The key word in all of these laws is “reasonable.” For example, it is never considered reasonable to use force against someone for words alone. Tex. Penal Code § 9.31(b)(1). If the force used is reasonable in the situation, then using force is considered justified.
When force is used in the specific circumstances of the castle doctrine, the law presumes that the use of force was reasonable. The presumption of reasonableness makes it much easier to avoid criminal charges, and even if you are charged, it is much easier to prove that your actions were justified.
The castle doctrine in Texas presumes that using force is reasonable and justified when another person:
- unlawfully and with force enters or attempts to enter your habitation, vehicle, or work-place; or
- attempts to remove you, by force, from your habitation, vehicle, or work-place;
- was committing or attempting to commit aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery.
Texas Penal Code § 9.31
In the context of self-defense, “habitation” means any structure or vehicle that is adapted for overnight living by a person. However, it only includes structures that are connected to the main habitation. For example, a detached garage that is a separate structure from your house would likely not be considered your habitation. But if the garage was attached to the home, then it would be considered part of your habitation.
As it relates to the Castle-Doctrine, a “vehicle” is any device by which a person or property can be propelled or moved. This includes, but is not limited to, cars, golf carts, ATVs, boats, and airplanes.
There are two major exceptions to the castle doctrine: the person seeking to claim protection under the law cannot have provoked, or started, the incident. This is also known as being the “aggressor,” and it is not permitted under Texas law. The person must also not be engaged in criminal activity at the time the incident takes place. A person that is engaged in criminal activity will not be entitled to a castle doctrine defense, but they may be able to claim self-defense and lessen their punishment depending on the circumstances surrounding the event.
The castle law is straightforward in its application, and while it does grant extensive use of force in the exact circumstances outlined by the penal code, most other uses of force will be judged based on the force necessary to prevent or stop a crime from occurring. The force that is necessary, or reasonable, depends on the situation and is governed by a variety of laws in the Texas Penal Code.
It is important to know your rights to defend yourself, other people, and your property, and not just assume that your actions will be justified.
Knowing Your Rights For Self-Protection in Texas
Self-Defense - Texas Penal Code § 9.31
A person is justified in using force against another when he reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect himself against the other's use or attempted use of unlawful force. A “reasonable belief” is one held by an ordinary and prudent person in the same circumstance as the actor.
As discussed above, if the elements for the castle doctrine are satisfied, then it is automatically assumed that the actor reasonably believed the force was necessary for the purposes of self-defense.
The use of force against another is not justified (1) in response to verbal provocation alone; (2) to resist an arrest or search that the actor knows is being made by a peace officer; (3) if the actor consented to the exact force used or attempted by the other; (4) or (5) if the actor confronted the other person concerning their differences while the actor was possessing or transporting several different types of weapons. Force is also not justified if the actor provoked the other's use or attempted use of unlawful force, unless the actor abandons or attempts to abandon the encounter and the other nevertheless continues or attempts to use unlawful force against him.
The person defending themselves has no duty to retreat if they had a right to be in the location, did not provoke the person they used deadly force against, and was not engaged in criminal activity. Also, the judge or jury cannot consider whether an actor failed to retreat when determining whether the actor reasonably believed force was necessary.
Self-Defense using Deadly Force - Texas Penal Code § 9.32
A person is justified in using deadly force against another if the actor would be justified in using regular self-defense against the other and reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary to protect the actor against the other's use or attempted use of unlawful deadly force or to prevent the other's imminent commission of aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery.
Like regular self-defense, it is presumed that the use of force was immediately necessary if if the castle doctrine elements are satisfied.
Furthermore, the person defending themselves has no duty to retreat if they had a right to be in the location, did not provoke the person they used deadly force against, and was not engaged in criminal activity. Also, the judge or jury cannot consider whether an actor failed to retreat when determining whether the actor reasonably believed force was necessary.
What is deadly force?
In Texas, “Deadly Force” means force that is intended or known by the actor to cause, or in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing, death or serious bodily injury.
What is threat of force?
A person can use a threat of force so long as they would be justified in actually using force in the situation. A threat to cause death or serious bodily injury by the production of a gun or other weapon is not considered deadly force as long as the person’s purpose is limited to creating fear that he will use the weapon if necessary.
Are there other laws that allow Texans to protect themselves or their property?
Protection of Others – Texas Penal Code § 9.33
A person can use force or deadly force to protect another if, under the circumstances, he reasonably believes that he would be justified in using force or deadly force to protect himself if he was the one being unlawfully attacked and he believes his intervention is immediately necessary to protect the other person. The actor in the situation is said to “step into the shoes” of the person being attacked and act as if he was that person for the purposes of self-defense.
Prevention of Trespass or Theft - Texas Penal Code § 9.41(a)
Texas law allows a lawful owner of land or tangible property to use force to protect his property. The property owner is justified in using force when he reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to prevent or terminate the other's trespass on his land or unlawful interference with his property.
Recovery of Land or Stolen Property - Texas Penal Code § 9.41(b)
A person unlawfully dispossessed of land or property by another is justified in using force against the other when he reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to re-enter the land or recover the property. The owner can only use force if he uses it immediately or in fresh pursuit after the dispossession and he reasonably believes the other had no claim of right when he dispossessed the actor or the other took the land or property by using force, threat, or fraud.
Deadly Force to Protect Property - Texas Penal Code § 9.42
There is a three-part test an owner must meet in order to use deadly force to protect his property. A person is justified in using deadly force to protect his land or tangible property if:
- he would be justified in using force against the other under § 9.41 of the Penal Code;
- he reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary to prevent the other's imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime or to prevent the other who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property; and
- he reasonably believes that the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means or the use of force other than deadly force to protect or recover the land or property would expose the actor or another to a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.
Can you be sued in civil court for personal injury or death after using self-defense?
In some states, a person that was not criminally charged because they acted in self-defense can still be civilly sued by the “victim.” Occasionally, you will hear stories in the news about an intruder that sued a homeowner after the homeowner injured them in an attempt to defend themselves or their property. However, § 83.001 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code states that a person is immune from civil liability if they used force or deadly force that was justified under Chapter 9 of the Penal Code. Thus, if a criminal court finds that a person was justified in using force or deadly force to defend themselves, their property, or another person, that person has a very good chance of defending a civil lawsuit filed by the person force was used against.
How often do successful self-defense cases arise?
A study by the Violence Policy Center analyzed justifiable homicide by gun rates in the United States over a five-year period from 2008 to 2012. The study was based on data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program and defines “justifiable homicide” as the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen. Over that time period, there were only 1,108 justifiable homicides using a gun in the U.S. and 204 in Texas. The study determined that guns were used in approximately 81% of all justifiable homicides.
A Lawyer for Self-Defense or Castle Doctrine Case
Our law firm has handled hundreds of charges of violence. Many of these cases included issues of self-defense or defense of a third person. We have successfully won these cases in trial or had cases dropped before trial. However, every case is unique, and most require early, thorough investigation by your criminal defense lawyer. Contact us today, so we can get your defense ready.