Self-defense is defined as the right to prevent pain, suffering, or committed violence through the use of counteracting force or violence. The definition is simple and straightforward and seems to leave little room for interpretation. However, when self-defense is used as a defense in a criminal case, the meaning gets murky. Texas, like every other state, allows criminal defendants to claim self-defense, but whether or not such a defense is viable depends on the circumstances surrounding the situation. At Udeshi Clark and Associates, our Dallas criminal defense attorneys strive to devise the best possible defense for each our clients’ cases. For this reason, we know when a self-defense defense is viable and when it is not. This post explains why we would and would not go with a self-defense argument.
When Self Defense is Justified in Texas
First and foremost, it is important to understand in what situations Texas law permits a person to counteract another person’s violent actions with violence. There are two terms Texans commonly use to describe this right: “Stand Your Ground” and the “Castle Doctrine.” While neither of these terms refer to laws set forth in Texas’s penal code, they do sum up the laws laid out in the code.
“Stand Your Ground” is a concept based on the rights outlined in Texas Penal Code §9.32(c). This law essentially tells Texans that they do not have a duty to retreat when faced with a situation in which force or deadly force is necessary to protect oneself or another. The law still applies even if by retreating the person could have avoided the confrontation entirely but chose not to. However, in order for this concept to apply, the defendant must have had a legal right to be at the location where the confrontation took place, the defendant could not have instigated the incident, and the defendant could not have been involved in any criminal activity at the time of the confrontation.
The “Castle Doctrine” allows Texans to use violence or deadly force when protecting their property. The law which this doctrine is based off of—Texas Penal Code §9.42—loosely defines property and is as equally unclear as to where a person can use force to protect his or her personal property, but it is rather specific in other regards.
Under this doctrine, a person can use deadly force to prevent robbery, burglary, aggravated robbery, theft, or arson or to recover stolen property during the nighttime at his or her “habitation.” It seems as if lawmakers purposefully avoided the words “residence,” “building,” or “home.” Under Texas Penal Code §30.01, “habitation” is defined as a “structure or vehicle adapted for the overnight accommodation of persons.” “Habitation” could refer to a home, hotel, mobile home, tent, or any other place where a person sleeps for the night.
An assault defendant cannot just say that he or she was defending him or herself and have the judge and jury believe it. The defendant must prove the following in order to have the charges dropped:
- There was a threat of force or violence against him or her;
- He or she was genuinely afraid for his or her life or well-being;/li>
- He or she did not intend to harm the other individual and he or she did not instigate the altercation; and/li>
- There was no chance or retreating or escaping the situation./li>
If you can prove these four things in your own case, you stand a good chance of walking away from your case a free, innocent person. The Dallas criminal defense lawyers at Udeshi Clark and Associates can help you build a valid defense and make sure that you are not punished for defending yourself. Call today to schedule your consultation.
(image courtesy of Quentin Kemmel)