Texas Self-Defense Laws

In Texas, self-defense is defined by Texas Penal Code 9.31. This section states that “a person is justified in using force against another when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect the actor against the other's use or attempted use of unlawful force.”

Proving self-defense can be difficult, however. People can only claim self-defense when they:

  • only use the minimum amount of force necessary for self-defense,
  • reasonably believe that force was necessary to stop someone else's use of unlawful force,
  • did not provoke the attack, and
  • were not engaged in a crime.

If successful, self-defense is a complete defense to a criminal allegation. It justifies the use of force to repel the threat of violence against oneself. Under the castle doctrine, these rights are strongest when people are defending themselves at home.

Self-defense can also be invoked in the defense of property. It generally does not require attempt to retreat before using force. This makes Texas a stand your ground state.

In some cases, deadly force may be justified in self-defense. Deadly force can even be used to defend property.

Texas self-defense law includes the defense of others, as well.

Successfully raising the defense can absolve the defendant of liability for a violent crime.

self defense at home in texas
Texas’ self-defense law lets people defend themselves when faced with unlawful force.

1. What is self-defense?

Self-defense is a legal defense to an allegation of a violent crime. Defendants who argue they acted in self-defense claim that their conduct was justified. It was justified because it was only done to prevent someone else's use of unlawful force.

Self-defense is a common defense strategy in certain criminal cases. Among these are:

  • assault,
  • murder,
  • manslaughter, and
  • domestic violence.

2. When can someone legally defend themselves?

Texas' self-defense law allows people to defend themselves when faced with unlawful force. However, the person has to reasonably believe the force is immediately necessary.

Whether that belief was reasonable is a crucial aspect of the defense.

3. Does Texas follow the castle doctrine?

Yes, Texas follows the castle doctrine.

When the people are at home, work, or in their car, their right to use self-defense is at its greatest. The law will presume that the use of force was reasonably necessary, as long as the person:

  • did not provoke the victim, and
  • was not committing a crime, other than a traffic offense.

If neither of these is the case, self-defense is presumed to be justified. However, the person must have also had reason to believe that:

  • the victim was unlawfully breaking and entering, or
  • the victim was unlawfully removing the defendant from his or her house, car, or place of employment.

The castle doctrine also presumes that self-defense was reasonably necessary if you reasonably believed the other person was committing:

  • aggravated kidnapping,
  • murder,
  • sexual assault,
  • aggravated sexual assault,
  • robbery, or
  • aggravated robbery.1
scale of justice
The amount of force used in self-defense has to be reasonable and not disproportionate...

4. Are there times when the defense is not allowed?

There are certain situations where self-defense is not a defense strategy. These include when the defendant:

  • responded with force to a strictly verbal provocation,
  • resisted an arrest by a police officer, even if it was unlawful, that did not use excessive force,
  • consented to the victim's use of force, or
  • provoked the victim's use of force and did not abandon the encounter.2

Example: Jerry provokes his arch-enemy, Ron, into attacking him. As soon as Ron shoves him, Jerry pulls out his gun and shoots him.

5. How much force can be used?

The amount of force used in self-defense has to be reasonable. It cannot be disproportionate to the unlawful force threatened.

When too much force is used, it can be a crime. The person claiming self-defense could be liable for assault or even murder.

Example: Jack is an adult bodybuilder. A 10-year-old boy tries to punch Jack. To stop the attack, Jack pulls out his gun and shoots the boy.

6. What about deadly force?

Texas allows the use of deadly force in self-defense in limited circumstances.

It can only be used when the person reasonably believes it is necessary to protect against:

  • the victim's use or attempt to use deadly force, or
  • the imminent commission of the following crimes:
    • aggravated kidnapping,
    • murder,
    • sexual assault,
    • aggravated sexual assault,
    • robbery, or
    • aggravated robbery.3

7. What if someone else was being attacked?

The use of force to defend someone else is justified if the person reasonably believes that:

  • he or she would have been able to claim self-defense, if they had been in the shoes of the person being attacked, and
  • their intervention is immediately necessary.4

The use of deadly force may be permissible to defend someone else.

Example: Claire sees someone getting beaten up. She rushes over to intervene and stop the assault.

8. Is Texas a stand your ground state?

Yes, Texas is a stand your ground state. The law allows defendants to use self-defense without withdrawing, first.

People can stand their ground and use self-defense if they:

  • had a lawful right to be where they ended up using force in self-defense,
  • did not provoke the victim, and
  • were not engaged in criminal activity at the time.5

This applies to the deadly use of force, as well.6

Example: Dale is in his driveway when Tom approaches, brandishing a knife. Dale does not need to run into his house before using force in self-defense.

9. What if only property was at issue?

Texas extends self-defense rights to the protection of property. People can use force, even deadly force, to protect their property.

Like with self-defense, People have to reasonably believe their use of force is immediately necessary. It also has to be proportionate to the victim's conduct.7

Unlike most other states, deadly force can sometimes be used in the protection of property in Texas.8

10. Who has the burden of proof?

People claiming they acted in self-defense have to raise some evidence to support their claim.

Once the defense has been raised, the burden of proof shifts to the prosecutor. The prosecutor has to persuade the jury that the defendant did not act in self-defense. This has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.9

Legal References:

  1. Texas Penal Code 9.31(a).

  2. Texas Penal Code 9.31.

  3. Texas Penal Code 9.32.

  4. Texas Penal Code 9.33.

  5. Texas Penal Code 9.31(e).

  6. Texas Penal Code 9.32(c).

  7. Texas Penal Code 9.41.

  8. Texas Penal Code 9.42.

  9. Zuliani v. State, 97 S.W.3d 589 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003).

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