What Defense of Others Means in Houston Domestic Violence Cases

In the State of Texas, there are many forms of self-defense claims. These expansive rights extend to domestic violence claims in addition to standard assault cases and expand beyond your right to defend yourself from the threat of violence. Under the law, these defenses provide legal justification for your actions that can cause you to avoid a criminal conviction in many cases if you are acting in the defense of another person.  These defenses, however, are determined by the fact finder, either a judge or jury.

State law gives you the right to stand up for another individual when an imminent threat is present. However, this defense is not open-ended. If you fail to act reasonably you could find yourself facing charges of domestic assault despite your effort to defend a third party or even yourself.

If you are facing criminal charges after defending another person, Board Certified Criminal Defense attorney Doug Murphy can assist you in fighting the charges. Call right away to schedule a free consultation.

Defense of Others in Domestic Assault Cases

You have the right to use force to defend another person from a violent threat. However, the law requires that you do so within certain parameters to avoid criminal liability. These defenses are complex, as they involve admitting that you committed an act of violence against a spouse, partner, or household member. Despite meeting every element of the offense, the jury can find that your actions were justified if they agree the defense applies.

There are no limits on who this defense could apply to in a case of alleged domestic violence. You have the right to raise this defense whether your act was designed to protect a loved one or a total straight. There are important limits to the use of this defense, though. According to Texas Penal Code Section 9.33, there are three elements you must establish to make use of a defense-of-others claim. These elements include:

  1. You believe the use of force is immediately necessary;
  2. To protect that third person against the use or attempted use of unlawful force; and
  3. You reasonably believe your intervention is required to protect that person.

Immediate Threat

A claim of defense of others is only allowed when the third person is facing an imminent threat of harm. In other words, the threat of harm must be imminent and current. This means if you commit a violent act against a family member for a threat that is no longer pressing, the defense may not be valid. Typically, this defense is reserved for when you have a reasonable belief the third person is in danger of:

  • Aggravated kidnapping
  • Murder
  • Robbery
  • Sexual assault
  • Aggravated sexual assault, or
  • Aggravated robbery.

Necessary Force

Even when a claim of defense of others is appropriate in a domestic situation, you are only allowed to use the amount of force necessary to turn back the threat. If you use an unreasonable amount of force to deter the threat of harm to another person, this defense will not allow you to avoid criminal liability. In general, this means you may only use the same amount of force that the third person is currently being threatened with.

There are other important limits as well. While state law allows the use of deadly force when acting in the defense of others, it is only available under limited circumstances. This defense will only allow you to use lethal force to thwart the use or attempted use of lethal force against a third person. If you use lethal force in a situation where it is unwarranted, you will not be able to make use of a defense-of-others claim.

Reasonable Belief

Finally, your belief that the use of force is necessary must be reasonable. Whether or not your actions were reasonable will be up to the jury. When they review the factors surrounding your arrest, they must decide if a reasonable person would have agreed the threat of violence against a third person was real or if you grossly overreacted. If the jury decides you acted unreasonably, you could face a conviction for domestic assault.

Examples of Defending Others in Houston Domestic Violence Cases

Claims of defense of others are complex given how every case is different. The subjective nature of this defense can make the use of examples helpful to understand how it is applied. Consider the following examples.

Example #1:

Fred and Sandy are married. During an argument with their daughter, Sandy becomes enraged and approaches their daughter with her hand raised. Believing Sandy intended to strike their daughter, Fred restrains her. In the scuffle, she suffered bruising on her wrists and arms. While this might typically result in a domestic assault conviction, Fred could likely make use of a defense-of-others claim.

Example #2:

Carl and Mandy are married, with a daughter. After a loud argument between the two, Mandy begins to slap their daughter. Carl angrily responds by pulling out a handgun and shooting Mandy. While Carl might have had grounds to use force to defend his daughter, the use of a firearm is an unreasonable use of lethal force that would likely make the defense unavailable.

Example #3:

Consider the example above. After a loud argument between Mandy and her daughter, Mandy strikes her more than once. The situation de-escalates, and several hours later Carl returns home from work. When he learns of Mandy's violent outburst, he strikes her repeatedly. In this situation, a claim of defense of others would likely not apply. While it is true that Mandy was violent hours early, the threat was no longer pressing. Given that there was no ongoing danger, the actions of Carl were closer to retribution than an effort to prevent violence.

Crafting a Defense with the Help of a Board Certified Houston Defense Attorney

When it comes to the use of a defense of others claim, no two cases are alike. The jury will view each case in their own light make their own subjective decision on whether your actions were reasonable. An experienced Houston domestic violence defense attorney can assist you with identifying the right defense in your case while vigorously advocating on your behalf. To determine if you are entitled to a defense of others claim, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. right away.

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If you are facing DWI or other criminal charges in Texas, contact our office today to discuss your case, so we can begin working on your defense. Please provide only your personal email and cell phone number so that we can immediately and confidentially communicate with you.