Crimes of Violence and Self-Defense Cases

Defending You and Your Family

You know the old saying: don’t mess with Texas. This adage extends to Texans who wish to defend themselves, too. In Texas, self-defense is defined as defense that justifies the perpetrator’s actions in what would otherwise be considered a crime. However, self-defense does not include physical retaliation whenever someone feels physically threatened or scared. When it comes to defending self-defense cases, the reasonableness of the perpetrator’s actions matter the most.

Of course, most Texans are reasonable people who would only defend themselves when they feel like their lives are legitimately threatened, so it helps all of our clients to understand how self-defense factors into some more serious crimes like assault or homicide.

There’s one key distinction we should address before we dive in, though: the difference between force and lethal force.

In Texas, force can mean any force that doesn’t result in death or serious bodily harm. This definition encompasses force as light as shoulder brushes to deep bruises. Lethal force, on the other hand, is strictly defined by the Texas Penal Code as force meant to kill or seriously harm someone physically, according to how the force was used or what its intention for use was.

  • Aggravated Assault – In cases of aggravated assault, the perpetrator’s reasonableness is assumed, since aggravated assault is by definition an attempt to cause serious bodily harm with little regard for the victim’s life. In this case, it is reasonable to assume that the victim would physically retaliate in self-defense. However, one thing to keep in mind is that the lethality of the self-defense must match the lethality of the aggravated assault.
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  • Manslaughter – Sometimes, an individual charged with manslaughter may also be able to claim self-defenseespecially if their vehicle was entered into unlawfully or without their consent. Here, the reasonableness of self-defense is also assumed. Individuals charged with manslaughter may also claim “heat of passion” in self-defense.
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  • Family Assault/Domestic Violence – Before claiming self-defense in a family assault or domestic violence case, your attorney will review a few things. First, they’ll check to see if the story you tell them matches up with the story you told the police. They’ll also look for any visible bodily injuries on you, check the police report to see if you admitted to defending yourself with violence, and see if the assailant also sustained any injuries that suggest self-defense on your behalf. Attorneys will also try to learn your reasoning behind using violent measures and determine if there are inconsistencies at all in your story or the facts of the case.

In certain cases, such as terroristic threats, self-defense may not be justified, as this charge only pertains to verbal threats of violence and not the violent acts themselves. You’ll have to consult a seasoned criminal defense attorney to see if your self-defense was justified in such a scenario.

As for Texas’ bigger crimes, like murder, capital murder, felony murder, and homicide, justifications for self-defense are pretty uniform:

  • The force used in retaliation must be reasonable and proportionate to the initial, unwanted force. For example, it’s unreasonable to beat someone to a pulp if they only hit you once.
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  • Following this logic, deadly force is only okay as self-defense when deadly force was initially used. It’s also reasonable to use deadly force when trying to prevent crimes like murder, robbery, sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, or aggravated sexual assault.
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  • You can’t claim self-defense if you physically retaliated to exclusively verbal threats.
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  • Most importantly, you cannot be the aggressor in the act or the first person to use physical force and claim self-defense. The only exception is when you attack first and the other person responds with deadly force.

Claiming self-defense in court (and being successful) is quite complicated, but being able to defend you and your loved ones from imminent danger shouldn’t be. Proving that clients were defending themselves in difficult situations is a cornerstone of our practice, and we want to hear about your case.