Most people know that you can use force to defend yourself from bodily attack in Texas. But did you know that the state also lets you use force in certain situations to protect your property? This law can help shield property owners from criminal liability if they use force appropriately. But the law is complicated. You can’t always use force to defend property, and the force needs to be reasonably necessary. You can’t simply pull out a gun to shoot someone who picks up your laptop or car keys by mistake.
At Tad Nelson & Associates, we believe in providing timely legal information to the public so they understand their responsibilities and rights under the law. If you’ve been picked up for assault, then please call us. You might be able to raise certain defenses to the criminal charges, as our League City criminal defense attorney can explain.
When Can You Use Force to Protect Your Property?
There are several laws. The first is Section 9.41 of the Texas Penal Code. This gives you the right to use force to defend land or movable property if:
- You are in lawful possession of the property, and
- You reasonably believe it is immediately necessary to use force to prevent or stop someone’s trespass or unlawful interference with the property, and
- You reasonably believe the degree of force used is necessary to stop the trespass.
As you can see, there are limitations. First, you must have lawful possession of the property. Two thieves battling it out over stolen property cannot invoke this section in self-defense.
Second, the force must be immediately necessary. You can’t confront someone a mile away from your property and restrain them or run them over with a truck because you want to keep them from trespassing. You also can’t attack someone who is looking suspiciously at your car if they haven’t made a move to steal it.
Third, you must reasonably believe the degree of force you use is necessary to stop the trespass. In many cases, this means you should give a trespasser a verbal warning to leave first. Some people wander onto property by mistake, and it’s arguably unreasonable to restrain them without a prior verbal warning.
What happens if someone has managed to take your property? Helpfully, the law lets you use force to get it back in “fresh pursuit” if they used fraud, force, or threats to take the property, or you reasonably believe they have no legal right when they took the property.
When Is Use of Deadly Force Justified?
Can you ever use deadly force to protect your property? That is a very serious question indeed. According to Section 9.42 of the Penal Code, you are justified only if you meet the following:
- You satisfy section 9.41 to use force, and
- You reasonably believe force is necessary to stop an imminent burglary, arson, aggravated robbery, or the commission at night of criminal mischief or theft, or to stop the criminal from fleeing, and
- You reasonably believe you can’t protect or recover property by other means or that you will suffer serious injury or death.
As you can see, you can’t use deadly force if someone commits daytime theft. That’s off the table. You also can’t use deadly force if there are other reasonable means to recover the property.
Have You Been Charged with Assault?
These laws often come into play once someone is charged with assault or a more serious violent crime, like manslaughter. The prosecution might believe you weren’t justified in using the amount of force you did, or any force at all. For example, there might be a dispute as to whether you needed to punch someone who stole your wallet to get it back.
You should proceed carefully and call a League City criminal defense attorney. You won’t succeed by making a blanket statement like “the guy was robbing me!” You must prove your use of force was justified under the law.
Often, we see people face charges because they used excessive force and the assailant was seriously injured.
Call Our Criminal Defense Lawyers in League City
Our advice to readers: It’s usually best to call the cops if someone has stolen something from you or is trespassing on your property. Even if you can legally use force in defense, a jury hearing your case might not be sympathetic.
Nonetheless, our office can defend anyone charged with a violent crime. We will analyze all available defenses and bring the one that works best for your case. Call Tad Nelson today.