When can I argue self-defense in my criminal case in Texas?

State and federal laws define self-defense as the right to use reasonable countering force to prevent pain, suffering or an act of violence. This definition is simple and straightforward. However, the meaning of self-defense gets murky when it is used as a defense in a criminal case. 

Texas, like all the other states, allows a defendant in a criminal case to argue self-defense. However, the viability of such a defense depends largely on the circumstances surrounding the case. 

So what is Texas’ self-defense law?

Texas law recognizes the use of deadly force under certain circumstances. To successfully argue self-defense in a criminal trial, you must start by establishing that you had a reasonable belief that the deadly force you used was necessary to protect yourself or someone else from unlawful use of force. That deceased individual might have been trying to use that force to commit a crime such as murder, kidnapping, robbery or sexual assault. 

Here are three conditions that must be met for self-defense to apply in Texas:

  • You believed that there was imminent harm – this means that you cannot argue self-defense for assaulting someone who is likely to harm you in the future. Self-defense only applies if the danger is immediate.
  • Your fear of harm was reasonable – while the word “reasonable” is clearly subjective, it implies that most people in your situation would agree with your assessment that the threat you were facing was genuine and that it could have resulted in your bodily harm or death.
  • You responded reasonably to the threat – you must demonstrate that the counterforce you applied reasonably matched the threat. Again, this is quite subjective. However, the question you need to ask is: Would most people agree given the circumstances your response to the threat was fair and proportionate to the threat? For instance, most people would dispute that drawing a gun and shooting someone who has merely shoved you over is both fair and proportionate. 

Self-defense is a right of every citizen. If you are physically attacked or threatened with bodily harm or death, then you are entitled to use proportionate force to protect yourself. However, for a self-defense argument to hold, you must prove that you were justified in taking the specified action that resulted in the loss of life.