Your home is your castle, and in Texas, you have the right to use force to protect it. If you've been arrested for a violent crime but were simply acting in defense of your property, it is important to speak with an attorney immediately. You should not be punished for exercising your legal right to protect your home or personal belongings. Houston criminal defense attorney Doug Murphy can help you prove that your actions were justifiable under Texas self-defense law. Call today to schedule a free consultation and learn more.
What Defense of Property Means in Texas
The right to protect your property from trespass or interference is firmly cemented in Texas State law. How can you assert this right if you've been accused of a violent crime? Defense of property is what is known as an affirmative defense. This basically means that you admit to engaging in behavior that would, under different circumstances, be against the law. However, you explain that your actions are justified under Texas State law because you were protecting your personal property.
In order for your affirmative defense to be successful, you must be able to prove that your actions were justifiable.
Understanding When Defense of Property is Justifiable
When is it okay to use force to defend your own property? Texas Penal Code § 9.41 explains that the use of force against another person is justified when:
- You are in lawful possession of land or tangible, movable property;
- You reasonably believe that the force is immediately necessary; and
- You are trying to prevent another person's trespass or unlawful interference with that property.
In other words, you can use force to defend your land or property to stop someone else from trespassing or committing a crime.
Lawful Possession of Land or Other Property
Texas State law only extends the right to use force to defend property that is rightfully yours. This includes your land and any “tangible, movable property.” Tangible property is defined as items that can be “seen, weighed, measured, felt, or otherwise perceived by the senses.” State defense laws only permit the use of force to protect tangible property that can be moved. Items such as tools, art, or vehicles would likely be considered tangible, movable property.
Force is Immediately Necessary
The use of force is only justifiable if it is immediately necessary to stop a threat. You cannot use force to defend property against prior threats or threats that may occur in the future. The trespass or interference with your property must be happening at the very moment that you use force.
Trespass and Unlawful Interference
The use of force is justified in Texas if another person trespasses or otherwise unlawfully interferes with your property.
Trespassing: Trespassing occurs when a person enters and remains on land without your permission. This can occur if there are “no trespassing” signs posted on your property or if you tell a person to leave the premises.
Unlawful Interference: Unlawful interference can mean (1) attempted theft, (2) theft, or (3) other criminal mischief.
Using Force to Regain Your Property
In Texas, you may also be justified in using force to pursue and recover your personal property. Penal Code § 9.41 also extends the right to use force in defense of property when:
- You are unlawfully dispossessed of your land or tangible property;
- You reasonably believe that force is immediately necessary in fresh pursuit to reenter the land or recover your property; and
- The other person had no right to the property and/or acquired such property using force, threat, or fraud.
In simpler terms, you may be justified in using immediate force to regain control of property that was unlawfully taken from you. However, this use of force must be in “fresh pursuit” of the property, meaning that no significant time has elapsed since the theft or trespass.
Deadly Force and Defense of Property
In most cases, you must only exercise the degree of force that is necessary to protect your property. As a result, justifications for using deadly force are extremely limited. There are two situations when the use of deadly force in defense of property, as set forth in Texas Penal Code § 9.42, is justifiable: (1) preventing dangerous criminal behavior; or (2) preventing a criminal from escaping.
Preventing Dangerous Criminal Behavior
Deadly force may be used to defend your land or tangible, movable property when you reasonably believe that immediate force is necessary to prevent another person from committing one of the following crimes:
- Aggravated robbery
- Theft at night, or
- Criminal mischief at night.
Preventing a Criminal From Escaping
Deadly force may also be justified when you believe that it is necessary to prevent a person from fleeing immediately after they commit a dangerous crime (robbery, burglary, theft) and:
- The land or property affected cannot be protected or recovered in any other way; or
- Using any other level of force to protect or recover the property would put you in danger of suffering death or serious bodily harm.
So, the use of deadly force is only justifiable when another person is committing a violent and dangerous crime on your property and such force is necessary to stop them.
Standing Your Ground in Texas
Some states require property owners to flee or seek safe ground before resorting to the use of force. In Texas, however, you are fully entitled to stand your ground. This means that you do not have a duty to retreat before resorting to the use of force in protection of your property. In fact, whether or not you retreated is a factor that cannot be considered when determining if your actions were justifiable under Texas law.
Arguing Defense of Property in Texas
You have the right to use force to protect your land and property in Texas. You should not be punished for exercising this basic right. If you have been arrested for a violent crime in Texas but were simply defending your personal property or belongings, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney. Charges against you will not automatically be dismissed because you acted in defense of your property. Instead, you will have to successfully prove that your actions were justified under Texas law. Defense of property arguments can be tough and are best handled by an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Call the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to find out how our Houston criminal defense attorneys can help you beat criminal charges by arguing that your actions were appropriate under Texas law. We will thoroughly review facts of your case and gather evidence to support the argument that the use of force was immediately necessary to protect your property. Our aggressive approach will make it difficult for the state to build a strong criminal case against you. Contact us today at (713) 229-8333 to schedule a free consultation and learn more.