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When Is Deadly Force Justified As An Act Of Self-Defense?

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When Is Deadly Force Justified As An Act Of Self-Defense?


There are situations where an otherwise unlawful act, such as killing someone, may be legally justified. In Texas, a person may use force–even deadly force–when acting in self-defense. To be more precise, the Texas Penal Code recognizes a self-defense justification to a murder charge when the defendant “reasonably believed” their actions were “immediately necessary” to prevent the victim from using (or attempting to use) unlawful deadly force themselves.

According to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the defendant has the burden of producing evidence they acted in self-defense. The prosecution then has the burden of “persuasion” to disprove that evidence. Of course, the state must still prove every element of a charged offense “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Harris County Man Sentenced to 25 Years for Murder

One thing to keep in mind is that just because the defendant claims they acted in self-defense, that may not be enough to convince a jury without additional corroborating evidence. A recent decision from the Texas 14th District Court of Appeals, Whitaker v. State, provides a cautionary example. In this case, two men were involved in a fight, resulting in the death of one of them. Prosecutors charged the survivor–the defendant–with first-degree murder.

At trial, the defendant never disputed his actions caused the victim’s death. But he insisted that he acted in self-defense. The prosecution, however, produced a witness who testified the defendant was trying to get away from the defendant–and that the defendant “ran after [the victim], tackled him, and began hitting and punching him.” The witness said that even after police arrived, the defendant continued to hit the victim.

The defendant testified that he acted in self-defense because the victim had come at him with a knife and tried to kill him. The defendant told the same thing to the officers who initially arrived at the scene on the night of the victim’s death. But the jury apparently did not believe the defendant and convicted him of murder. The court sentenced the defendant to 25 years in prison.

On appeal, the 14th District upheld the conviction. It said that taking into account all of the evidence presented at trial, a rational juror could conclude “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant was not acting in self-defense. The appellate court emphasized the prosecution did not to “disprove” the defendant’s self-defense claim, only prove its own case beyond a reasonable doubt, which it did. Put simply, the jury was free to decide the defendant’s story about the victim coming at him with a knife was simply not credible.

Contact Pearland Criminal Defense Attorney Keith B. French Today

If you are facing a serious criminal charge but believe that your actions were legally justified, you need to act promptly to build a defense. Never assume a police officer or prosecutor will simply believe your story. You need to work with an experienced Pearland criminal defense lawyer who will look out for your best interests. Contact Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today to speak with a member of our team.


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