What is the Castle Doctrine in Texas?

The concept of justifiable homicide as an act of self-defense has been in the news lately, mostly due to the trial of a Dallas police officer who killed a man when she mistook his apartment for her own.

The police officer's defense rested on the concept of the "Castle Doctrine," which gives someone who is threatened in their own home the right to use lethal force to protect themselves. This is similar to the broader "Stand Your Ground" laws in many other states -- with a few important differences. If you live in Texas, it's wise to understand exactly how self-defense claims involving a homicide can work.

Essentially, both the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws are both ways of justifying a homicide. The Castle Doctrine grants you the right to defend yourself, your family, and your property by whatever means necessary from an intruder. You have no duty to retreat from your own home even if you could easily do so.

Stand Your Ground laws generally take the Castle Doctrine and extend it to wherever you happen to be. You have no duty to retreat from an immediate threat no matter where you are.

Before you decide to assert the Castle Doctrine as part of your own defense, here are some things to consider:

1. All of the burden will fall on you to prove your case.

Normally, prosecutors have the burden of proving a defendant is guilty. In this type of defense, you have to admit that you took someone's life and then prove that it was self-defense.

2. It is not unusual for a prosecutor to "charge first, look later."

You may find yourself facing homicide charges after what seems like a clear case of self-defense. If so, don't panic. Prosecutors sometimes charge a defendant before the true circumstances of a case are known.

If you've been charged with causing the death of another and you feel self-defense should apply, discuss the issue with your defense attorney before you talk to the police. The nuances of the law can be difficult to follow and your safest route of action is to speak only to your attorney.

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