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When Is The Use Of Force Justified In Self-Defense?

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When Is The Use Of Force Justified In Self-Defense?


Not every use of force–including deadly force–is against the law. Texas recognizes “self-defense” as a valid defense to criminal charges. Self-defense in this context refers to a scenario where a person “reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect the actor against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force.”

There is a related defense known as “defense of a third person.” This covers situations where “under the circumstances as the actor reasonably believes them to be, the actor would be justified … in using force or deadly force to protect himself against the unlawful force or unlawful deadly force he reasonably believes to be threatening the third person he seeks to protect.” The actor must also believe that their intervention is “immediately necessary to protect the third person.”

To put this in simple terms, if someone tries to rob you with a gun, you can lawfully use force to stop them. That is self-defense. Similarly, if you see someone robbing a third person on the street, you can also use force to stop the robber.

Houston Court Rejects “Defense of Third Person” Claim in Capital Murder Case

Self-defense and defense of a third person both presume that the actor was not the “first aggressor.” That is to say, you cannot provoke a violent incident and then claim you acted in self-defense to stop it. The same applies to the defense of a third person argument.

A recent decision from the Texas 14th District Court of Appeals, Anderson v. State, provides a useful illustration. This was a capital murder case from Harris County. According to evidence introduced at trial, the defendant walked into a convenience store and approached one of the customers. The defendant was accompanied by another man who was known as “Trill.” Based on surveillance video from the store’s security system, it appeared that the defendant pulled a gun on the customer. There was then a brief struggle for the gun, during which Trill shot and killed the customer, also injuring the defendant in the process.

The defendant did not testify at trial. But the jury heard evidence regarding the defendant’s statements to the police during an interrogation. The defendant told police that he had previously sold marijuana to the victim. The customer provided his own gun as “collateral” until he could come up with the money. The defendant had thus gone to the store that night to receive payment and return the gun. When the defendant got “impatient” waiting for his money, that is when the struggle ensued.

The jury found the defendant guilty of capital murder and he received a life sentence. On appeal, the defendant argued the trial judge should have instructed the jury on “defense of a third person.” As the defendant saw the facts, Trill only shot the victim to protect the defendant. But as the appellate court explained, the defendant’s own statements to the police identified him as the “first aggressor” in the scenario: His impatience–not to mention pulling the gun out–is what caused Trill to intervene. More to the point, the video showed that Trill, who did not testify, was well aware of the fact the defendant was the aggressor.

Contact Pearland, Texas, Criminal Defense Attorney Keith French Today

The worst thing you can do when questioned by the police is to admit any facts that could later be used against you in court. Remember, the best thing you can do is to keep your mouth closed and contact a qualified Pearland criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Contact Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today if you need to speak with someone right away.


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