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In Texas, Can You Be Charged If You Shoot Someone in Self-Defense?

A woman's hand grips a handgun at her side.

Make sure you know when it is and isn't legal to use deadly force.

In Texas, self-defense is a fundamental, legally protected right, and in some circumstances, that includes the right to use a deadly weapon such as a firearm. However, self-defense does not apply in all circumstances. Rather, it is an "affirmative defense" — meaning you can introduce evidence to prove it to avoid criminal liability — and certain legal criteria need to be met.

In short, whether you are legally allowed to shoot someone in self-defense depends on the situation. It also depends on whether your attorney can build a credible self-defense case on your behalf. That's why you need to know your rights and exercise your right to legal counsel.

When is using deadly force justifiable to protect a person?

Most successful self-defense cases involve the use of force to protect yourself or another person. In Texas, you can legally use deadly force if you reasonably believe it is necessary to protect yourself or someone else from imminent death or serious bodily injury, or to prevent a violent crime such as aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, or robbery.

The key phrase there is "reasonably believe." It's not enough to simply assert that you did believe it was necessary to use deadly force to stop an imminent threat; if that were the case, almost anyone could claim self-defense. Rather, the court asks whether a "reasonable person" in the same situation would have considered it necessary to use deadly force, based on the facts and circumstances of the shooting.

For example, if someone verbally threatens your life, that may not be enough to justify shooting in self-defense; if that person is holding a weapon, though, you have a much stronger self-defense case. In addition, remember that it has to be "immediately" necessary — if someone is threatening to attack you next week, you can certainly notify the police and take other measures to protect yourself, but that is not an imminent threat to your life.

Is it legal to shoot a trespasser?

In and of itself, trespassing is not considered justification for use of deadly force in Texas. However, if someone has unlawfully entered or is trying to unlawfully enter your home by force, there is a presumption that deadly force is immediately necessary in response.

Can you shoot someone to protect your property in Texas?

While there are some circumstances in which you can use force to protect property, it is generally not legal to use deadly force to protect your property. However, there are exceptions. To legally shoot someone to protect property, you must reasonably believe that the use of force is necessary to prevent someone from committing or fleeing after committing one of the following crimes:

  • Arson
  • Burglary
  • Robbery or aggravated robbery
  • Theft at night
  • Criminal mischief at night

In addition, you must prove that you reasonably believed you could not prevent the crime or recover the property by any other means, or that using non-deadly force would expose you or someone else to a risk of death or serious bodily injury.

The "Castle Doctrine" and shooting in self-defense

Texas law recognizes the "Castle Doctrine," which means that you have no duty to retreat from an assailant if you are inside your own home (your "castle"). The Texas Penal Code also extends the Castle Doctrine to include your vehicle and your workplace; this is the so-called "Stand Your Ground" law.

However, the Castle Doctrine does not in itself give you the right to shoot someone; it merely means that you are not required to retreat. You still need to believe that the use of deadly force is necessary to protect yourself or another person from an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury; or to stop a violent crime such as murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, or robbery; or that it is necessary to protect property, as explained above.

In general, the Castle Doctrine allows you to respond with the same level of force that is being used against you. You can only use deadly force if you are threatened with deadly force. The Castle Doctrine also does not protect you if you provoked the person, or if you were engaged in the commission of a crime at the time of the incident.

If you are charged with a crime in Texas, get an experienced attorney

There are two key takeaways here. First, if you ever find yourself in a self-defense situation armed with a gun or other deadly weapon, remember your legal rights. You can only use deadly force if you reasonably believe it is necessary to protect yourself or another person or to stop a violent crime, or if you believe it is necessary and unavoidable to prevent a property crime. If your life is truly threatened, do what you have to do, but if you aren't sure, err on the side of caution.

Second, if you are facing criminal charges for what you believe was self-defense, don't just assume the jury will side with you. You need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side to build the case that you acted in self-defense. In Conroe and throughout Montgomery County, The Webb Firm, P.C. stands up for criminal defendants. Give us a call or contact us online as soon as possible for a free consultation.

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