Believe it or not, in some situations it is actually legal to injure or even kill another person. Under Texas stand your ground and self-defense laws, you are legally permitted to use physical force, and deadly force in certain circumstances, to protect yourself from violent crime or bodily harm.
Every state has its own self-defense laws that allow you to defend yourself against threats of violence. While many self-defense laws are similar in nature, states disagree about laws regarding stand your ground.
What Is Self Defense?
Self-defense is a legal defense that a person can assert if they are charged with a crime for using physical force or deadly force against someone else. If you acted in self-defense, you are legally justified in using a proportional level of force or violence.
Originally, self-defense laws included a requirement that you try to flee or otherwise avoid the attack before you were allowed to defend yourself. This obligation is referred to as the “duty to retreat.” Although most states have removed this requirement for self-defense cases, many states still impose a duty to retreat in cases where lethal force was used.
What Is Stand Your Ground?
Stand your ground laws are a variation of self-defense laws that do not include a duty to retreat. In other words, criminal defendants can claim they were acting in self-defense even if they did not attempt to flee. This is considered an extension of castle doctrine law, which is a common law defense that states a person is not required to retreat before using deadly force in a person’s home.
At least 25 states have put stand your ground laws into place, and this number continues to grow. The laws in stand your ground states differ regarding whether you must attempt to flee before killing in self-defense, with some states removing the duty to retreat entirely and others retaining it only for cases involving the use of lethal force.
Stand Your Ground Laws in Texas
Texas is one of the states that has adopted stand your ground self-defense laws. Texas law states that you are not required to retreat before using physical force or deadly force in self-defense if all of the following are true:
- You have a right to be present at the location where the force is used.
- You have not provoked the person against whom the force is used.
- You are not engaged in criminal activity at the time the force is used.
Self-Defense Laws in Texas
Texas’s self-defense law, as explained in Texas Penal Code § 9.31, gives you the legal right to use physical force against someone when it is immediately necessary to protect yourself against that person’s use or attempted use of unlawful physical force. According to Texas Penal Code § 9.32, you are also allowed to use deadly force when it is immediately necessary to:
- Protect yourself against unlawful lethal force; or
- To prevent the other person’s imminent commission of aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery.
The Use of Force Must Be Proportional
A key component of legal self-defense is that your use of force must be proportional to the force with which you are threatened. For example, you would be allowed to use physical force to protect yourself if someone punched you in the mouth or slapped you across the face. You would NOT be legally justified to use deadly force to protect yourself against either of these attacks, because it would not be a proportional response to the level of the threat of violence. However, if someone pointed a loaded gun at your head, you would be permitted to use deadly force to defend yourself, since deadly force would be a proportional response to the deadly force of a loaded gun.
The Use of Force Must Be Reasonable
Texas law includes an additional caveat to when self-defense may be used: you can only use physical force or deadly force to the extent a reasonable person would believe that physical force or deadly force is immediately necessary to prevent bodily injury or death. In other words, even if you genuinely believed that using force was immediately necessary, your use of force was not legally justified if an objective and reasonable person would not have also thought that the force was immediately necessary.
Texas law specifies that your belief that the force was immediately necessary will be presumed to be a reasonable belief if:
- You did not provoke the person against whom the force was used.
- You were not engaged in criminal activity, other than a Class C misdemeanor traffic offense.
- You knew or had reason to believe that the person against whom the force was used was doing or attempting to do any of the following:
- Unlawfully and forcibly enter your occupied habitation, vehicle, or place of business or employment.
- Unlawfully and forcibly remove you from your habitation, vehicle, or place of business or employment.
- Commit aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery.
Additionally, Texas has incorporated the stand your ground law into the reasonableness aspect of self-defense. The law specifically forbids the jury or judge from considering whether the defendant failed to retreat when deciding whether the defendant reasonably believed that the use of deadly force was necessary.
A Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
If you have been charged with a crime such as assault or homicide but utilized self-defense, the law is on your side. A criminal defense attorney can evaluate your case to decide if your use of force was protected under Texas stand your ground and self-defense laws.