An assault, according to the Texas legal code, is:
- Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another
- Intentionally or knowingly threatening another person with imminent bodily harm
- Intentionally or knowingly causing physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe the other will regard that contact as offensive or provocative
In other words, the act or threat of assault was imminent, and you meant to do it, knowing it would cause bodily harm or the fear of it.
Self-defense is essentially justified unlawful assault. In other words, you had to commit assault due to the actions of another in order to keep yourself, someone else, or your property from harm. It’s one of the most common defense strategies in cases involving assault, murder, manslaughter, and domestic violence.
Above is a very simplified definition that comes with multiple caveats, including the defendant proving they were justified in taking the unlawful action of assault because the other person acted violently or made violent threats.
Also, you can only claim self-defense as long as you:
- Use the minimum amount of force necessary for self-defense
- Reasonably believe force was required to stop someone else’s use of unlawful force
- Did not provoke the attack
- Are not engaged in a crime
Self-defense cases may not go to trial, and usually, prosecutors decide to drop an assault case under specific conditions. For example, in 2018, a Dallas mother was not charged with assault after she shot a carjacker attempting to steal her vehicle with her children inside.
If there had been no children involved, it’s possible the shooter might have been accused of assault. The self-defense strategy wouldn’t work because of a lack of proportionality. There was no bodily injury imminent, only a loss of property.
Using the self-defense strategy does not require showing you were physically attacked before you acted in self-defense. However, you must have received at least a threat of violence to respond in self-defense. Also, you could use deadly force in self-defense if the other person escalated the fight to a level of deadly force, even if you started the fight. You may not be absolved entirely, but the law contains the provision.
Elements of Self-Defense in Texas
Texas Penal Code Section 9.31 covers self-defense. It says an individual is justified in using force against another to the degree the person reasonably believes force is necessary to protect themselves against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force.
The word “reasonable” appears throughout the criminal code because it provides a bar to clear in determining when the typical person would believe something is OK to do. It can feel a little mushy, but it is a common method of determining the justification for an action.
Reasonable fear of bodily harm means the situation before the assault can cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety. If somebody playfully pushes your shoulder, a reasonable person will not fear for their safety, so punching the other person as hard as possible or shooting them won’t be excused by self-defense.
Self-defense is only a legal strategy against imminent threats. You must feel that another person will harm you or another person at that moment before you can claim any response as self-defense. However, there are still limits on responses.
It is not self-defense to respond violently to the following:
- Offensive or provocative words that contain no threat
- Threats that have been abandoned
- The individual assaulting you has ceased to act against you
There is one more element to the self-defense law in Texas called Protection of Life or Health.
You are justified in using force, but not deadly force, to prevent someone from committing suicide or inflicting serious bodily injury to themselves. Also, you can use deadly force against another person when it is necessary to save another person’s life.
Deadly Force Restrictions
Texas allows you to use deadly force in limited circumstances, including the one above. Again, you must reasonably believe it is necessary to use deadly force to protect against the other’s use or attempted use of deadly force or the imminent commission of the following:
- Aggravated kidnapping
- Sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault
- Robbery or aggravated robber
It is rare, if not impossible that the court would condone deadly force in instances of property damage.
The Castle Doctrine and Stand-Your-Ground Laws
Texas Penal Code Section 9.01 speaks to the so-called Castle Doctrine, enacted in 1995 as a stand-your-ground law, and it was later strengthened in 2007. It says you may use reasonable force when defending your property, such as your home, workplace, or vehicle.
Before Castle Doctrine laws, most states required you to retreat in the face of such crimes. Now you can act in self-defense, even if you aren’t threatened with bodily injury. However, Texas has a limited definition of what qualifies as a habitation.
In Texas, a habitation is a structure or vehicle adapted for overnight accommodation or persons. It includes each separately secured or occupied portion of the structure or vehicle and each structure appurtenant to or connected with the structure or vehicle.
What does that mean? It means you can use reasonable force to defend your property from your attached porch but not your detached garage. Also, the same rules apply — you cannot provoke someone else to act and then claim the Castle Doctrine if they commit violence or damage or aren’t committing a crime.
You must have reason to believe the person is unlawfully breaking and entering or unlawfully removing you or someone else from the house, car, or place of employment.
Self-Defense Is Not Allowed In These Circumstances
You cannot claim self-defense if you responded with force to a strictly verbal provocation or consented to the individual’s use of force.
Also, while things today are a bit shaky concerning law enforcement, you are not allowed to use self-defense if you resist arrest by a police officer, even if it’s unlawful and does not include excessive force.
Why You Need an Attorney
If someone charges you with assault, even if it was in self-defense, you might need an experienced criminal attorney to help you prove it. The self-defense code has many shades of gray, and your lawyer can help you clarify your case.
Contact the office of Brett Podolsky if you need help fighting an assault charge.