Limits of Self-Defense Law Tested in Texas

A suburban Texas shooting earlier this month has led to questions about how widely self-defense laws can be applied.

According to the Houston Chronicle, a man living in Pasadena, TX, called 911 one afternoon when he heard glass shattering and saw two men leaving his next-door neighbor’s house. The man then reportedly left his house and shot the two suspected burglars with his shotgun when they refused to stop.

When police arrived a few minutes later, the suspected thieves were dead, sources say. Now, officials are apparently trying to determine whether or not the man had any legal right to use deadly force in defense of someone else’s property.

The case comes at an interesting time. As of September 1st, revisions to the Castle Doctrine have given Texans more leeway to use deadly force to protect their property. The Castle Doctrine is named after the idea that a home is a castle and the homeowner therefore has a right to protect it.

According to the new law, Texans are allowed to use deadly force to protect their property and prevent arson, burglary, robbery, theft, or criminal mischief at night, or to stop someone who has committed one of those crimes from leaving their property.

The law also stipulates that the use of deadly force is only appropriate when there is no other way to protect property or when less drastic measures could lead to serious danger for the self or others. It gives property owners the right to protect themselves in their residences, vehicles, and places of business.

It says nothing, however, about protecting a neighbor’s house.

The Pasadena man’s case is complicated, though, by one more twist: at the time of the robbery and shootings, his neighbor was not in or on his property.

According to reports, if the neighbor asserts that he asked the shooter to take care of his property while he was away, the shooter will have a stronger legal case. But even the shooter’s criminal defense attorney has allegedly claimed that this situation will stretch the limits of self-defense law.

One of the new stipulations of the “castle doctrine” is that homeowners are not required to retreat from suspected thieves before using deadly force. This factor, if coupled with a neighbor’s assurance that he asked the shooter to watch his property, could be important to the shooter’s criminal defense case.

As of now, reports indicate that the case will go before the Harris County grand jury. The decision reached in court could set an important precedent for self-defense law in Texas.