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Understanding Self-Defense in Texas Assault & Domestic Violence Cases

In the state of Texas, you have the right to protect yourself and others from harm. Everyone has heard of "self-defense" and is aware generally, of what this concept entails. However, as a legal defense to criminal charges, such as assault and domestic violence, there are very specific requirements which must be met in order to successfully claim self-defense. 

If you're facing violent crime charges, don't just take a deal without consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Cops often arrive on the scene of a fight when circumstances are chaotic and it can be next to impossible to determine what actually happened. You may have been taken into custody and charged with a crime even if you were only acting in a way to prevent harm to yourself or someone else. Your attorney knows how to paint this picture to demonstrate that your behavior was within the bounds of the law. Carl Ceder is an experienced, aggressive criminal defense attorney and will work to mount a thorough defense to violent crime charges.

When Is It "Self Defense"?

"Self defense" is what is known as a type of "affirmative defense". When you put forth an affirmative defense, you are admitting that you did engage in behavior which may have violated a criminal statute, but that this behavior was justified under another legal doctrine, and therefore is justified. You must demonstrate that you reasonably believed your behavior was necessary to prevent force/other harm being acted upon you and/or to prevent certain types of crimes being perpetrated upon others.

Your Belief Must Be "Reasonable"

What does it mean to have a "reasonable belief" as it pertains to self-defense? This means that, under the circumstances, a 'reasonable person' would have believed that he or she was under immediate threat of danger. For example, if you are walking across your college campus and a man jumps out from behind a tree holding a gun in your direction, your belief that someone is about to harm you would probably be warranted. If you later learned that this person was the director of a musical who was brandishing a prop gun because he mistakenly believed you to be his roommate and he wanted to play a prank, you still would have held a reasonable belief that someone was about to harm you under the circumstances. 

Contrast this with a different example: you are at the playground with your child and a playmate brandishes a Nerf gun and points this at your child. You do not have a reasonable belief that harm was about to immediately befall your child.

Reasonable Based on Certain Circumstances

Under Texas law, there are certain circumstances under which the law will presume that your belief was reasonable. These include if someone is unlawfully entering (or attempting to unlawfully enter) your home, place of business, or your vehicle; if someone is attempting to remove you from these same places; and/or if someone is attempting to commit certain crimes against you (such as kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery)

The Threat Must Be "Immediate"

You also must prove that the threat you were facing was "immediate". A person could be threatened with harm, and reasonably believe that they were going to be harmed, but if that harm is not "immediate", a claim of self-defense is not available.

To illustrate with an example: you are playing pool with some friends at a bar. You agree to a game with a stranger, which you win. The stranger becomes enraged, shows you the barrel of a gun, and tells you that he's going to be waiting for you in the parking lot. He then exits the bar. A threat of this type might pass the "reasonable" test. However, the potential harm here would not be "immediate" and would not, for example, justify taking physical action against your pool opponent from behind as he exited the bar. 

If you were, however, walking to your car in the bar parking lot and this person came running up brandishing a weapon, this would be much more likely to be "immediate" harm that could justify your use of force.

When Can't You Claim Self Defense?

There are certain circumstances under which you are prohibited from claiming self-defense under Texas Law. These include:

  1. If you used force against another person in response to verbal provocation alone
  2. If you used force to resist a police officer during an unlawful search or arrest (unless the officer uses greater force than necessary before you resisted)
  3. If you consented to the force used by that other person
  4. If you provoked the violent situation (unless you abandon or clearly communicate your intent to abandon the violent encounter)
  5. If you were carrying a or possessing a weapon in violation of state law

Duty to Retreat

Some states have what is known as a "duty to retreat", which means that if another individual is threatening you with harm, you must assess whether or not you have the means to retreat from the situation. If you do, you must first attempt to retreat before using force against another person. Texas does NOT have a duty to retreat. Therefore, even if you had a possible exit out of a threatening situation, this alone would not bar you from claiming self-defense.

Pleading Self Defense In a Criminal Case in Dallas-Fort Worth 

To successfully claim self-defense, you need an attorney who is willing to take the time to understand exactly what happened and mount a smart, aggressive defense, painting the whole picture of exactly what happened for the court. If you're facing criminal charges after you protected yourself or others, contact Carl Ceder today either online or at 469-900-0000 to schedule a consultation. It may be your best option to fight and beat these charges or to get the best outcome in your unique situation.