4320 W. Vickery Blvd, Suite A, Fort Worth, TX 76107
817-332-7703 Schedule an Appointment With Us Online »
Historical Fort Worth courthouse

Breaking Down Self-Defense in Texas

Defendants can escape punishment for a violent crime if an affirmative defense, like self-defense, applies.

The Lone Star State has one of the broadest self-defense laws in the country. It’s based on the castle doctrine (“a man’s home is his castle”). In Medieval times, knights could do almost anything to protect a castle, even if those acts included questionable behavior because if the shoe was on the other foot, the other knights had the same legal rights. Likewise, Texans can do almost anything to protect their homes, loved ones, or property, even if those acts include questionable behavior because everyone is equal under the law.

The laws are broad, but prosecutors are very aggressive. Only a determined Fort Worth criminal defense lawyer can effectively stand up for self-defense rights and other legal rights in court. Self-defense, like other affirmative defenses, is a silver bullet. No matter how strong the state’s case is, if self-defense applies, the defendant is immune from punishment, or at least partially immune. More on that below.

Procedural Issues

Like other affirmative defenses, self-defense is risky. The defendant must admit to all elements of the crime, which is usually aggravated assault, murder, or another serious charge before a jury considers self-defense. So, if the jury sides the other way, the defendant loses everything.

Furthermore, all affirmative criminal law defenses, such as self-defense and coercion, are subjective in Texas.

If two or more people commit a crime together, some element of coercion is almost always present. Especially at certain ages, peer pressure, either positive or negative pressure, is extremely powerful.

At some point, that positive or negative pressure is too great to resist. However, the jury decides where to draw that line.

So, affirmative defenses like self-defense involve a choice. A Fort Worth criminal defense lawyer must decide if attacking the state’s evidence or presenting an affirmative defense is the best route. Usually, it must be one or the other.

Elements of the Defense

Essentially, self-defense is a proportional response to an imminent and credible threat of serious harm to a person or property.

The proportional response element is subjective. It is easy to say that a defendant cannot bring a knife to a fistfight, and that’s true. However, proportionality varies. If a professional MMA fighter threatened me, I might reasonably believe I must use a weapon to counter that threat.

Imminent is immediate. “I am going to get my friends and be back,” or “I’ve got a gun in the car” is not an imminent threat. Granted, Texas has a stand-your-ground law, so defendants do not have a duty to retreat before they use deadly force in self-defense. But in most cases, most jurors would say that defendants threatened with non-imminent violence should have run away.

Credibility is similar to proportional response, except credibility usually applies in unarmed situations. A 6’4” muscular man has little reason to fear a 5’7” chubby man.

Effects of the Defense

In most cases, self-defense is a trial defense that excuses criminal behavior. In a few cases, this defense is relevant during the sentencing phase. Basically, self-defense is an extenuating circumstance that merits lesser punishment.

Count on a Dedicated Tarrant County Criminal Defense Lawyer

Self-defense is a game-changing doctrine in Texas. For a free consultation with an experienced Fort Worth criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Office of Kyle Whittaker. Convenient payment plans are available.