Stand Your Ground Law
Today I Wanted to dive into the topic of Texas’ “Stand Your Ground” law, because as most of us know already (or at least if you’re from Texas), we have quite a bit of rights when it comes to someone committing a violent crime, threatening to commit, or trespassing at night in our homes. If you are in fear for your life or serious bodily harm, you have no duty to retreat and can “stand your ground”, justifiably using deadly force to prevent death or serious bodily injury. Though I believe that the determining factors for claiming self defense are a bit exaggerated at times. It’s Kind of like that game telephone when we were kids, the rumor passes down and gets mutated. I wanted to clarify this issue a bit, since I myself know very little about it, so I did a bit of research on the subject. There is actually a lot of controversy on this law, and lots of topics I could go into. However, I’m not here to spit out a 40 page essay for you to read. I am going to summarize my findings for you and give you the gist of the subject. Let’s first start with defining a few concepts that frequent this topic and dive into the history of the law and how it became what it is today, so you have a better understanding.
History of the Castle Doctrine
It is widely known, and has been for some time now within society, that you have the right to protect yourself if you’re being attacked. There are many caveats that come with the right to self-defense though. For example, you cannot use more force than is necessary to prevent the use of force by another person. You also have the right to use deadly force if and only if you believe you are under threat of death or serious bodily injury, as defined in the Texas Penal Code. Your acts are justified if and only if you meet two conditions; 1) If a reasonable person in the same situation would hold the same belief 2) You must also prove that you retreated, or did not have the ability to retreat. Now, every state is different, and laws have changed over time, this is merely a generic definition of self-defense.
As society became more civilized in the late nineteenth century, it became Common Law in England that a person has the duty to retreat. This law was widely disregarded by the United States, though some states did adopt the duty to retreat. Eventually, the Supreme Court had to face this issue, which nationally defined the duty to retreat, or should I say the lack thereof. The supreme court was first faced with the issue and set a precedent in the case Beard v. United States. In this case, the Supreme Court decided that it did not recognize any common law duty to retreat The duty to retreat was further clarified later on in the case Brown v. United States. In this case, Supreme Court decided that a defendant has no duty to retreat so long as he has a legal right to be there. The duty to retreat still differs among states because in the end they do have the right to define their own rules on the subject. Now this is where the “castle doctrine” comes into play. In the states that do impose a duty to retreat, the castle doctrine becomes an exception to that rule, stating a person has NO duty to retreat when in his or her home and may use reasonable force, including deadly force to defend his or her property. On the flip side, If you are not in your home, you do have a duty to retreat. Though there are still many rules to the castle doctrine that define whether or not your actions are justified,though it has become common among states that the mere act of entering a home unlawfully constitutes deadly force to defend yourself.
Stand Your Ground Trend
Since 2005, starting with Florida, many states have adopted some form or another of the “Stand Your Ground” law. Back in 2007, Texas became one of the first few states to adopt a similar law to Florida’s. This meant that there was no longer a “duty to retreat,” in the home or any extension of your castle, before using deadly force in self-defense.
Prior to 2007, deadly force was not considered justified in Texas if retreat was possible. Prosecutors would often point out in murder trials that a defendant claiming self-defense could have walked, run or driven away. This is no longer required under the current law. Since adoption of the stand your ground law, you are allowed to use force to protect yourself in your home, vehicle and even your place of work. These are all considered an “extension” of your castle. Now that doesn’t mean you can start throwing punches at just anyone in your home, there’s some fine print there that can lead to you doing time if you abuse the law. As long as you meet these three requirements, you should be able to legally claim self-defense.
- Have the legal right to be at place of incident
- Not engaging in illegal activity
- Didn’t provoke the attack
Simply put, if you believe an invader of your “castle” is there to harm you and use of force or deadly force is necessary to defend your own life or prevent you from serious bodily injury, then you could have a strong defense case. Though there are many factors that could dampen the strength of your case, like provoking the attacker. Prime examples of instances where you are generally justified to use force to defend your home are in violent crimes such as murder, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping, or aggravated robbery. However, these types of cases tend to get quite tricky and it is highly recommended that you get a capable criminal defense attorney with the experience and know how to keep you out of prison.
This is an absurd hypothetical, but what if you were in a situation at your own home where a home invasion was taking place and the perpetrator had what looked like a weapon in his hand, getting ready to swing at you. Or maybe the guy attacking you is your friend that out of nowhere decided he was going to rob you. So you defend yourself by grabbing a fire iron and wind up poking out an eye or some debilitating injury, but the guy survives. He then hires the best lawyer money can buy, while you decided to defend yourself thinking, “I’m in the right here, I’m defending my home”. You wouldn’t want to find yourself in that situation, there may be a lack of evidence in your favor and that criminal defense attorney proves that the home invader is actually a victim in this situation (highly unlikely). You could be looking at an aggravated assault charge carrying a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Now this is totally an extreme hypothetical situation that likely you will never run into and you may even win the case, but my point is made and I digress.
The law has long been one of much controversy over the years. Of course, if you’re like myself, you tend to take pride in our right to defend ourselves. There are many states that still haven’t enacted the stand your ground law, for some think that it’s broad provisions encourage vigilante justice and abuse of the law. Those that oppose the law, argue that the law prior to 2007 sufficiently defended a person’s right to self-defense, and the protection of human life equally. The rest of Texas agrees, that the burden to make a split-second decision on whether or not to use deadly force in the face of a home invader should not be on the victim. My only comment on the subject, is that I hope people don’t take advantage of this law. I certainly enjoy my right to defend myself if I were ever put in a tough situation like that, and I would hate to lose that right just because of a few bad actors.