When Is “Self-Defense” A Valid Defense To Murder?
There is often some confusion surrounding the law of self-defense in Texas, particularly with respect to the “Stand Your Ground” rule. Basically, if you have a reasonable belief that you are in danger, you may lawfully use force to defend yourself from an attacker. In certain cases, you can even use deadly force to protect yourself or someone else from becoming the victim of a violent crime.
The phrase “Stand Your Ground” means that when you lawfully act in self-defense, the prosecution cannot argue that you had a “duty to retreat” instead. Historically, there was such a duty to retreat. But the Texas legislature abolished that duty in 2007 when it adopted the current “Stand Your Ground” rule.
Court of Criminal Appeals: Murder Defendant Was Never Entitled to Self-Defense Instruction
That said, you cannot simply shoot someone and they claim you acted in self-defense. The law requires you, as the defendant raising a “Stand Your Ground” claim, to provide evidence that shows you had an “objectively reasonable” fear that you were about to become the “recipient of unlawful use of force from another” when you acted. Absent such evidence, a judge is not required to even instruct the jury on the law of self-defense.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) recently clarified this issue in a case, Lozano v. State, where the judge actually instructed the jury incorrectly at trial. This case involved a defendant who shot and killed a man in the parking lot of a pool hall in El Paso. The defendant had just had a fight with his girlfriend and had got into his truck alone. While speeding away, the defendant nearly hit two other women who were walking thru the parking lot. The boyfriend of one of the women then threw a beer can through the window of the defendant’s vehicle.
The defendant then pulled a gun from a backpack. Not seeing the gun, the boyfriend went around to the other side of the vehicle and punched the defendant through the window. The defendant responded by shooting three shots at the boyfriend, killing him.
At trial, the judge gave a self-defense instruction, but incorrectly stated the pre-2007 law, which required referenced the now-repealed “duty to retreat” language. Nevertheless, the jury found the defendant guilty of murder. On appeal, the defendant argued he was entitled to a new trial based on the incorrect jury instruction.
The CCA disagreed–because it held the defendant was never entitled to any instruction on self-defense in the first place. Nothing in the evidence presented explained why the defendant felt compelled to shoot the victim three times in response to the victim’s actions. It was possible the defendant “believed that he was justified in using deadly force,” the CCA said, “but no evidence supports that conclusion.”
Contact Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Keith B. French Today
Self-defense is not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. The evidence needs to properly support such a defense, especially with respect to a felony charge like murder. If you have additional questions or concerns and need advice from an experienced Pearland criminal defense lawyer, contact Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today, to schedule a consultation.