The Castle Doctrine Explained

Defense

You have heard the old saying that a man’s home is his castle (and the same applies to a woman’s home), and this is the impetus for what is commonly known as the castle law or doctrine, which has been on the books (in one form or another) for hundreds of years. The idea is that your home is your safe place and that you should have the legal right to protect yourself from the consequences of someone else’s criminal behavior when you are in your home. The castle doctrine is not one single law but, instead, incorporates a wide range of self-defense statutes. Further, each state puts its own spin on the matter – some employing more expansive laws and some employing less expansive laws, and you can probably guess where Texas stands on the matter.

Stand Your Ground

When states expand the concept of self-defense to allow the justified use of force to protect oneself from a threat in one’s own home or place of work – even if there is a viable means of escape – they employ what is known as a stand your ground law. True to form, the State of Texas has penned some of the strongest laws related to both self-defense and defense of property in the nation. The castle doctrine in Texas is spread out across several legal provisions that govern lawful self-defense, including the lawful use of force. Texas laws allow you to engage in the justified use of force in order to do any of the following:

  • Protect yourself

  • Protect someone else

  • Protect your property (in some situations)

How the Castle Doctrine Works

In order to understand the castle doctrine or law, it is important to have a feel for the underlying self-defense laws as they relate to protecting yourself, other people, and your own property. Generally, self-defense laws hinge on the idea of reasonableness. If the force you employ to protect yourself exceeds what is reasonable, self-defense laws are unlikely to protect you. For example, using force against someone to protect yourself from his or her words is not considered reasonable. If the force employed, however, is deemed reasonable in relation to the given circumstances, your self-defense efforts may be considered justified. In the State of Texas, the castle doctrine presumes that your use of force is reasonable if one of the following applies:

  • Someone was using force to illegally enter or attempt to enter your habitation, vehicle, or workplace

  • Someone was using force in an effort to remove you from your habitation, vehicle, or workplace

  • Someone was committing or attempting to commit either sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, aggravated robbery, aggravated kidnapping, or murder.

Defining the Terms

Your habitation in the context of the castle doctrine and self-defense laws refers to any structure or vehicle that is adapted for overnight stays, such as your home, a trailer, a cabin, or an RV. This definition includes any structures that are connected to your primary habitation but do not cover buildings that are not connected. In other words, an attached garage would likely qualify as your habitation, while a detached garage likely would not. Your vehicle in this context refers to virtually every kind of vehicle, which can include any of the following:

  • A car, truck, van, or SUV

  • A golf cart

  • An ATV

  • A boat

  • An airplane

Two Primary Exceptions

There are two primary legal exceptions to self-defense that are supported by the castle doctrine.

The Aggressor

If the person who engaged in the use of force as a means of self-defense was the aggressor in the matter (and provoked or otherwise started the precipitating event), the castle doctrine defense would not hold.

Criminal Activity

If the person who engaged in the use of force as a means of self-defense was engaging in criminal activity at the time, the castle doctrine defense would not hold (although a claim of self-defense may help mitigate the matter).

The castle doctrine is fairly cut and dry. While it does grant considerable use of force, it only does so in exacting circumstances. Outside these circumstances, the use of force for self-defense is judged in relation to the degree of force that was necessary to prevent or stop a crime from happening. The amount of force that is necessary or reasonable is determined in relation to the situation and is governed by a variety of self-defense laws.

Texas and Your Right to Self-Protection

You have the right to use force against someone else if you reasonably believe that the force you employ is necessary at the moment to protect yourself against the other person’s use of – or attempted use of – unlawful force. To reasonably believe in this context means that other ordinary and prudent people would have done the same and would have employed the same level of force in similar situations. If the elements of the castle doctrine are met, you are automatically assumed to have reasonably believed that the force you exhibited was necessary to defend yourself (thereby bypassing an important element that is necessary for general self-defense laws).

When the Use of Force Is Not Justified

In the State of Texas, the use of force as a means of self-defense is not justified in any of the following situations:

  • As a response to someone who is using verbal provocations only

  • In an effort to resist either an arrest or a search by someone whom you know is a police officer

  • If you consent to the force used against you (or that was attempted to be used against you) by the other person

  • If you possessed or were transporting various types of weapons when you confronted the other person regarding your personal differences

  • If you provoked the other person into using force – or attempting to use force – against you (unless you abandon or attempt to abandon the dangerous incident but the other person continues to or attempts to continue using unlawful force against you)

When You Have No Duty to Retreat

In the State of Texas, you have no duty to retreat (instead of staying to defend yourself) as long as all of the following apply:

  • You had a right to be wherever it was that you were at the time.

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

  • You were not engaged in criminal activity at the time that you used force against the other person.

When you have no duty to retreat, the judge or jury hearing your case cannot take whether or not you failed to retreat into consideration when making the determination of whether or not you reasonably believed the use of force was necessary.

When the Use of Deadly Force Is Justified

The use of deadly force is justified in Texas if you would have been justified using self-defense in the first place and reasonably believed (in relation to the situation) that the use of deadly force was necessary at the moment in order to protect yourself from the other person’s use of or attempted use of deadly force. The same is true if the deadly force was necessary at the moment in order to prevent the other person’s imminent commission of any of the following crimes:

  • Robbery or aggravated robbery

  • Sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault

  • Aggravated kidnapping

  • Murder

Again, if the castle doctrine elements are satisfied, your use of deadly force will be presumed to have been imminently necessary.

Just like other forms of self-defense, you have no duty to retreat in relation to the use of deadly force if you had the right to be there, did not provoke the other person, and were not engaged in criminal activity at the time. If these are all true, the judge or jury hearing your case cannot take your failure to retreat into consideration in relation to your reasonable belief that force was necessary.

Deadly Force

In this context, deadly force refers to a force that fulfills one of the following:

  • A force that is intended to cause or is capable of causing serious injury or death

  • A force that is known to cause or is capable of causing serious injury or death

  • A force used in a manner that was intended to cause or is known to cause (or be capable of causing) serious injury or death

Threat of Force

You can only turn to the threat of force if you would be justified in actually using force in the first place (in relation to the situation at hand). Producing a gun or another kind of weapon is a threat to cause serious injury or death; however, it is not tantamount to deadly force as long as your purpose was instilling fear that you would only resort to deadly force in the event it was necessary for you to do so.

Additional Protections

In the State of Texas, your right to protect yourself does not stop here.

The Protection of Others

You have the right to use either force or deadly force in the protection of another if you reasonably believe that, under the circumstances, you would be justified in doing so if you were the person being attacked and you believe that immediate intervention is necessary to protect the other person. This law allows you to step into the shoes of the victim involved and to act accordingly (in relation to self-defense).

The Prevention of Trespass or Theft

If you are the lawful owner of a parcel of land (or another kind of tangible property) in Texas, you have the right to protect it and are justified in using force if you reasonably believe the force in question is necessary at the moment to prevent or halt the trespassing on or the unlawful interference with your property.

The Recovery of Land or Stolen Property

You are also justified in using force against someone who steals land or property from you if you reasonably believe the force in question is necessary at the moment in order to retrieve the land or to reenter the property. This justification only applies if the force you use is in immediate response (or fresh pursuit) and you reasonably believe the other person had no legal right to the property or land at the time.

In highly specific situations, the use of deadly force is justified in the recovery of land or stolen property. The three-part test that must be met, however, includes all the following:

  • You would be justified in using force under the laws related to the prevention of trespass or theft or under the laws related to the recovery of land or stolen property.

  • You reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary at the moment in order to prevent the other person from committing arson, theft, burglary, robbery, or aggravated robbery during the night; in order to prevent the other person from engaging in criminal mischief during the night; or in order to prevent the other person from immediately fleeing after committing arson, theft, burglary, robbery, or aggravated robbery (during the night) and escaping with the property in question.

  • You reasonably believed that the land or the property in question could not be protected or recovered in any way other than your use of deadly force or that the use of any other form of force would have exposed you to a substantial risk of either serious injury or death.

Reach out to an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney Today

The State of Texas takes your right to protect yourself very seriously, but there are limitations to this right. If you are facing a criminal charge in relation to you exercising your right to defend yourself, Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – is a distinguished criminal defense attorney who recognizes the gravity of your situation and is fully committed to skillfully advocating for your rights – in focused pursuit of your case’s optimal outcome. Your rights are worth protecting, and your case is important, so please do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 for more information about how we can help you today.

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