Texas Self Defense: Understanding the Law So You Don’t Overstep It

You may have heard of the Texas “Castle Doctrine” or “Stand Your Ground” laws, which allow a person to defend their person or their property.

This is often used successfully as a defense to criminal charges in the state. But when does self-defense overstep the mark and become a criminal act?

Fine lines divide the use of self-defense and criminal force, so it’s important for anyone involved in a potentially violent situation to be aware of where these lines fall. Understanding this can mean the difference between freedom and a lengthy prison term …

How is self-defense defined in Texas?

Self-defense is defined under Texas Penal Code 9.31., which states the following:

“a person is justified in using force against another when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect the actor against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force.”

It is important to understand the precise meanings of these words. If you are accused of a violent crime where self-defense may be argued (such as assault, battery, domestic violence or even murder/manslaughter), your case may hinge on the interpretation of these words and your ensuing actions.

Your criminal defense lawyer may be able to argue that you acted in self-defense and your conduct was justified because it prevented someone else’s use of unlawful force.

However, the self-defense argument can be challenging to make and many violent crime cases are complex. The state prosecution will likely try to refute the self-defense claim even if it is obvious to you that you acted in self-defense.

Again, it is important to understand the boundaries of what constitutes legitimate self-defense in Texas.

When are you justified in using self-defense?

Under Texas self-defense laws, a defendant can only claim self-defense in the following situations:

  • The minimum amount of force necessary was used
  • There was a reasonable belief that force was necessary to stop someone else from using unlawful force
  • The attack was unprovoked
  • The defendant was not engaged in a crime

To successfully claim self-defense in a criminal case, you must only use enough force to repel the unlawful use of force against you, your property or another person in danger from another individual.

The self-defense argument may be used in the following scenarios:

  • Unlawful and forceful entry or attempted entry to your home, vehicle or place of business or employment.
  • Unlawful and forceful removal or attempted removal from your home, vehicle or place of business or employment.
  • Committal or attempted committal of a crime such as aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery.

Deadly force may even be justified if it can be proven that the response was proportional to the threat.

For instance, if someone unlawfully and forcefully enters your residence, you have a right to use deadly force to protect your home and your family. There is a presumption that the intruder can use deadly force against you or your family so the response would be in proportion to the threat.

Texas self-defense laws even entitle you to use force in self-defense to resist arrest or search if a law enforcement officer uses excessive force against you.

Self-defense, if successful, can completely absolve a defendant of liability for a crime.

How much force can you use?

Under Texas self-defense law, a defendant is entitled to use force to the same degree as the other party’s unlawful use (or attempted use) of force.

Many cases hinge upon the interpretation of what constitutes reasonable force.

For instance, if someone shoves you in a bar, it is not considered reasonable to take out a gun and shoot the assailant. The use of force would not be proportional to the threat.

For the defense of property, if someone tries to steal your car, you are not permitted to use deadly force against them for the sole purpose of protecting the property. However, you are entitled to use reasonable force to prevent harm to your property, including subduing the thief.

You would be entitled to use deadly force if, in threatening your property, a family member was endangered—for instance, if someone was attempting to steal your car while your child was inside.

If other courses of action are available to you, such as calling the police, this should be your first move. Generally, the self-defense argument is much more likely to succeed if it was used as a last resort and no more force was used than necessary to prevent harm to your property or person from the assailant.

When can self-defense NOT be used in Texas?

In certain situations, self-defense cannot be used under Texas law.

Most notably, this includes when the threat is only verbal. If the other person has no weapon, makes no physical contact, or doesn’t threaten physical contact, using violence against that person would usually be viewed as an assault.

Likewise, possessing or brandishing a weapon while in discussion with an unarmed person who doesn’t make physical contact with you would not usually be considered valid self-defense under Texas self-defense law.

Texas’ ‘Castle Doctrine’ and ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws

Under Texas self-defense laws, the so-called “Castle Doctrine” grants powerful rights to individuals when protecting their homes or vehicles.

Self-defense can be invoked in the defense of property as well as one’s family and does not require an attempt to retreat before using force. This is based on the reasonable right we all have to expect privacy and safety in our homes.

In recent years, “stand your ground” is used more commonly than “castle rules” to describe scenarios where individuals defend their property using reasonable force. Texas is one of 27 states in the U.S. to follow such “stand your ground” rules for self-defense.

Get help from an experienced self-defense attorney

If you or a loved one has been charged with a violent crime and needs legal advice, call the Law Office of Andrew Williams at 281-915-4053 to schedule a free consultation. Our phones are answered 24/7.

Andrew Williams, an experienced attorney who can challenge evidence in a DWI case
About the Author: Andrew Williams
I am a criminal defense lawyer with over 20 years experience defending people accused of wrongdoing. I am board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Only ten percent of attorneys in Texas are board certified in their respective field. I practice criminal law exclusively in both state and federal court including appeals of criminal cases.