The Castle Doctrine and Self-Defense in the State of Texas


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Brett Pritchard Law

Updated on March 29, 2024

Cases involving self-defense tend to be quite complicated, and many people wonder if they have the legal right to use force to protect themselves on their own property—and elsewhere.

Texas’s castle doctrine provides you with the legal right to engage in force to protect yourself in your own home, but this right is not without limitations. Having a better understanding of the castle doctrine can help you use self-defense to better protect yourself and your property within the limits of the law.

If you are facing a criminal charge for protecting yourself in your own home, you need a lawyer. Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard is a dedicated Temple criminal lawyer who has the experience, drive, and insight to help. To learn how we can help, don’t hesitate to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 today.

The Protections Offered by the Texas Castle Doctrine

The castle doctrine relates to your legal right to use force as a form of self-defense in those situations in which you do not have a duty to retreat.

A homeowner is legally justified in using force in his or her own home to protect himself or herself. This reasoning is just as true for business owners in their place of business and truckers in their semis. You have a right to defend yourself when you are at home, at work, or in your vehicle.

Under the castle doctrine, self-defense may be deemed reasonably necessary if you did not provoke the victim and were not engaging in any criminal activity at the time of the incident. The use of force is also justified if you reasonably believe that one of these crimes is being committed:

  1. Robbery or aggravated robbery

  2. Sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault

  3. Murder

  4. Aggravated kidnapping

In Defense of Someone Else

Under Texas law, the use of an adequate amount of force is permitted to defend another person when you reasonably believe both of the following statements:

  1. Your intervention to defend the person being attacked is immediately necessary.

  2. The person being attacked would have been able to claim self-defense to defend themselves if they had the opportunity to do so.

You are not, however, justified in using such force to protect someone other than yourself if you misinterpret the situation and end up leaving an innocent party seriously injured—or dead.

In Defense of Property

There are also specific circumstances in which you can employ deadly force to protect your property from an intruder. In such situations, several factors must apply:

  • You must own the land or property in question.

  • You must reasonably believe that the use of force is necessary in the moment to prevent arson, robbery, or burglary.

  • You must reasonably believe that there are no other means of protecting your land or property.

The Distinction between the Threat of Force and Deadly Force

The element of force is central to Texas’s castle doctrine, which makes understanding the distinction between the threat of force and actual deadly force important.

The threat of force amounts to demonstrating—in a threatening way—that you have the ability, the inclination, and the weapon to employ deadly force (force that can cause serious injury or death) against the person whom you threaten in the course of your self-defense.

For example, if you are threatened by an intruder in your home, and you show the intruder a gun that you intend to protect yourself with if it becomes necessary, it is called the threat of force. Texas law considers the threat of force to be a precursor to deadly force.

Deadly force means actually taking the next step and using the life-threatening force in question—whatever it may be—in the course of protecting yourself.

Under Texas law, a person can use deadly force in very limited circumstances. The use of deadly force in self-defense is justified based on specific factors, including the following:

  • You had a reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary to protect yourself against the use or attempted use of deadly force.

  • You had the legal right to be on the property in question.

  • You did not provoke the person on whom you used deadly force.

  • You were not engaged in a criminal pursuit when you used deadly force.

  • You reasonably believed that the other person was committing sexual assault (or aggravated sexual assault), murder, aggravated kidnapping, or robbery (or aggravated robbery)

  • You knew that the person whom you used deadly force against entered your home, business, or vehicle unlawfully and by force.

It's important to note that if another effective option is available, it's your responsibility to avail yourself of it. If calling the police or crying out for help would do the trick, the use of deadly force is not considered proportionate. When deadly force is used, a claim of self-defense is more likely to prove successful if it was used as a last-ditch effort after all other options were exhausted.

The amount of force used to defend yourself has to be adequate and reasonable to be justified. In other words, you must prove that the force was proportionate to the threat of unlawful force against you. When you use an unreasonable amount of force, your attempts to claim self-defense may be unsuccessful.

For example, let’s imagine that John shoves Mike and causes him to fall to the ground but does not threaten further harm. Mike pulls out a gun and shoots John. In this scenario, the use of force against John may not be proportionate.

If you are being accused of unreasonable use of force, consult with a Temple criminal lawyer to construct a solid self-defense strategy.

The Story of Stand Your Ground Laws

The castle doctrine is often referred to as a stand your ground law, which means you are not legally required to retreat before using force when you reasonably believe that someone else poses a threat against you. Further, it’s legal to employ deadly force when it’s considered necessary in order to prevent a violent crime like kidnapping, sexual assault, or murder.

For stand your ground laws to apply, you must be at home, at work, or in your vehicle and must reasonably believe that the person you’re defending yourself from is engaging in one of the following offenses:

  • Breaking and entering or attempting to do so

  • Assaulting you or someone else or attempting to do so

  • Removing you from your home, vehicle, or office or attempting to do so

Texas used to impose a duty to retreat when it came to self-defense. This requirement meant that the only way to justify deadly force was by demonstrating that a reasonable person could not have avoided the violent event. In other words, the deadly force you used had to be the only way you could protect yourself.

The castle doctrine was added in 1995, and the requirement to exhaust every self-defense option was dropped for those defending their own home or property. However, you were still obligated to retreat outside of your home, office, or vehicle.

In 2007, the laws were expanded further still, and the requirement of retreating was dropped altogether—as long as you have the legal right to be where you are when you use force to defend yourself. (Learn about trespassing laws in Texas.) As such, Texas’s self-defense laws are quite broad.

Many states require citizens to retreat before using force; Texas does not. In other words, Texas follows the “stand your ground” doctrine, which permits you to use force against an immediate threat even if you did not attempt to retreat first.

Claiming Self-Defense When Facing Criminal Charges in Texas

Self-defense is recognized as a valid defense strategy under Texas Penal Code § 9.31. However, a defendant can only claim self-defense when facing specific criminal charges under limited circumstances.

Consult with a Temple criminal defense attorney if you are facing criminal charges and considering claiming self-defense to avoid a conviction.

When Can You Claim Self-Defense in Texas

Self-defense is a strategy that can be used against allegations of assault and other violent crimes. A defendant can claim that they acted in self-defense to avoid a conviction for a violent crime.

Self-defense is often claimed by defendants facing the following criminal charges:

Using force to defend yourself may be justified when an adequate amount of force was used to stop another person’s use of unlawful force.

Some prosecutors fight self-defense claims as a matter of course, which can make proving that you were defending your own safety that much more difficult. Criminal charges are serious charges, and you shouldn’t proceed without the professional legal counsel of a Temple criminal defense attorney in your corner.

When Can’t You Claim Self-Defense in Texas?

Under certain circumstances, such as the following, self-defense is not a valid defense strategy:

  • You provoked the other person to use force against you.

  • You consented to being hit or attacked.

  • You used a disproportionate or inadequate amount of force.

  • You were resisting an arrest by a law enforcement officer, even if the arrest was unlawful.

How Do I Prove Self-Defense

The burden of proving self-defense is entirely on the defendant. There is no free pass when it comes to self-defense in the State of Texas. This kind of case flips the burden of proof in the criminal process from being solely on the prosecution to being squarely on you.

Under Texas law, you need to prove the following elements to claim self-defense successfully:

  1. You used an adequate amount of force.

  2. You reasonably believed that the use of force was immediately necessary.

  3. You did not provoke the other person.

  4. You were not attempting to commit a crime when using force.

In Texas, you can also invoke self-defense when defending yourself at home or defending your property. However, you must also prove one of the following situations to be true:

  • You had reason to believe that the other person was unlawfully breaking into or forcibly entering your home, work, or automobile.

  • You had reason to believe that the other person intended to unlawfully remove you from your home, work, or vehicle.

  • You had reason to believe that the other person was committing or attempting to commit a violent crime, such as sexual assault, robbery, aggravated robbery, aggravated kidnapping, or murder, against you or someone else.

If your claim of self-defense is successful, the charges are often dropped, and you will bear no legal responsibility. However, building a strong self-defense strategy is highly complex – consult with a skilled Temple criminal defense attorney.

How Can I Build a Self-Defense Case?

Using self-defense to protect yourself from harm and loss is perfectly legitimate, but to successfully claim self-defense, you’ll need to prove that your use of force was just that – a reasonable means of defending yourself or someone else.

In order to establish that you were well within your rights to defend yourself, your trusted criminal defense attorney will skillfully engage in all the following actions:

  • Interviewing eyewitnesses and character witnesses to testify on your behalf

  • Collecting all available evidence – in whatever form it takes

  • Obtaining the police reports related to the incident

  • Seeking out any surveillance footage that may have captured the incident

  • Engaging with the state to have the charge against you dropped or dismissed – or, barring that, working to negotiate a favorable resolution, such as a charge or sentence reduction

  • Preparing to take your case to trial when that is the best path forward

Your claim of self-defense must be backed up with evidence, and your savvy criminal defense attorney is well-prepared to help you with that.

Does Every Self-Defense Case Lead to Charges?

In Texas, the police and the district attorney have considerable discretion when it comes to bringing charges. If the early evidence related to the crime makes self-defense the only plausible conclusion, the DA may not bring charges in the first place.

In fact, if the DA believes that your actions were actually self-defense, it is his or her obligation as a prosecutor to uphold the responsibility of promoting justice (not simply racking up convictions) and forego bringing any charges.

FAQ about Self-Defense

The answers to the following frequently asked questions may help you with your own questions.

Am I Required to Retreat to Safety?

If you find yourself in harm's way at the hand of someone else, you are not required to retreat to safety in the State of Texas. However, if you have a clear path of retreat that will afford you safety, you’re well advised to take it. Staying in a dangerous situation in order to defend yourself can escalate quickly, and your safety should always take precedence.

How Do I Know If I Am within the Boundaries of the Law?

In Texas, you always have the right to defend yourself, others, and your property from force or attempted force. If you keep in mind that you’re required to use the least amount of force reasonably necessary to protect yourself from the threat you face, you’ll remain on the right side of the law. The force you exert shouldn’t exceed the amount required to protect yourself.

It Was Self-Defense. Do I Really Need an Attorney?  

Self-defense is an affirmative defense, which means that you don’t deny committing the offense but claim that you committed it in accordance with the laws of self-defense to protect yourself. In such cases, the burden of proof is on you. If you're facing a criminal charge and are claiming self-defense, working closely with a practiced Temple criminal defense attorney can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case.

Discuss Your Case with an Experienced Temple Criminal Lawyer Today

It is critical to speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney if you are being accused of a crime after using force to defend yourself, your property, or someone else.

When you claim that you acted in self-defense, you must provide evidence to support your claim. A Temple criminal defense attorney will build a strong case on your behalf and gather all available evidence to prove that the use of force was justified and reasonable.

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard is a criminal lawyer with experience guiding cases like yours toward favorable outcomes. Our dedicated legal team is committed to helping clients get their charges dismissed or reduced using self-defense and other defense strategies.

Schedule your FREE consultation with our attorneys to discuss potential defense strategies in your particular situation. Call us at (254) 781-4222 today.

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