Illustration by Ricky Ferrer

Stopping Burglary with Deadly Force

What are your rights when an intruder enters your home?

Castle Doctrine laws have become both a common and controversial part of penal codes across the country in recent decades. The main idea is that they increase landowner rights in protecting property from intruders, with the strongest versions–like the one Texas has adopted–disposing of the old common-law requirement that a homeowner try to retreat before using deadly force.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Texas’ Castle Doctrine is among the most expansive in the nation. In 1995, the Texas Legislature passed an amendment to the state penal code that eliminated the requirement to retreat before using deadly force. Simply put, as long as deadly force is justified, you have no legal duty to flee your property before using deadly force against an intruder—even if there’s a readily available escape route.

The lege made two additional changes in 2007. First, the no-duty-to-retreat rule was broadened to include any place you have a legal right to be (assuming you hadn’t provoked the target of deadly force and that you weren’t involved in any criminal activity). Second, the lege created the “presumption of reasonableness” when using deadly force in certain situations, which shifts the burden of proof from the shooter to the state.

Prior to 2007, it was up to a homeowner to prove that use of deadly force was justified. But today, that justification is assumed so long as you had reason to believe that someone was using force to illegally enter, attempt to enter, or remove you from your home, place of business, or car. The law also extends to protect you if you witness a murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, or robbery.

But Texas defense laws don’t stop there. Under the Texas Penal Code, you can justifiably use deadly force to protect your property from burglary, robbery, arson, theft, or criminal mischief that happens at night. You’re even justified to use deadly force to stop a criminal who’s fleeing the scene with your property in tow. Suffice it to say, this last provision has led to some controversial cases, including a Houston food truck owner who shot and killed a thief escaping with a little over $20 in tips. 

While Texas does provide plenty of protection for citizens who use deadly force to protect themselves and their property, it’s worth repeating that a jury–not you–will be the ultimate authority on what constitutes as reasonable force. Because of this, it’s crucial to learn the details of your rights rather than implore a shoot first, ask later mentality, which could result in a lengthy prison sentence.


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