What is the law of Self-defense in Texas

In the wake of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin verdict there's been a lot of discussion about self-defense. Unfortunately, many of the reports in the media have been misleading, if not downright false. So to set the record straight here's the law of self-defense. The same law that applies in Waco or McLennan County, or any other city and county in Texas. 

Self-defense is referred to as a "justification" - that is is defined in Section 9.02 of the Texas Penal Code as something that is a "defense to prosecution". Section 9.31 sets for the general requirements of self-defense. Generally, force is justified "when and to the degree necessary to protect the actor against the other's use or attempted use of unlawful force." The individual must have a "reasonable belief that the use of force is immediately necessary.

So to start, force is justified when an individual has a "reasonable" belief. The use of force must also be immediately necessary. You can walk away and then come back and assualt someone.

There are some limits on the use of force. Those include:

  • the person did not provoke the person against whom force was used
  • the provocation is not strictly verbal - you can't assault someone just because they called you bad names

Under Section 9.31 the use of force is limited to the force used by the other person. For example, if someone hits you you can't pull out a knife and stab them.

There are special rules which govern the use of deadly - such as using a weapon. Generally, you cannot use deadly force unless its immediately necessary to protect against the other person's use or attempted use of deadly force. In other words, you have to reasonably believe someone is trying to use deadly force against you.

You are also authorized in using deadly force if it's necessary to prevent the imminent commission of "aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery or aggravated robbery."You can also use deadly force against someone who "unlawfully and with force" enters your habitation, vehicle or place of work.

So there's the law of self-defense. The concept is basically pretty simple. You can protect yourself and others, but only to extent it's necessary. Your decision must be reasonable, which is usually where the difficulty come in establishing the defense. You have to convince jurors you acted reasonably - which is where a lawyer's skills are necessary.