The Castle Doctrine is one of our most treasured protections here in the Lone Star State, but what happens when the government fails to respect our Castle Doctrine privilege? Here is a real client story from the Houston-based Texas Law Shield Independent Program Attorneys at Walker & Byington that illustrates how your Castle Doctrine rights can come under attack from the State.
(Names and identifying information have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.)
On a Friday night, 70-year-old Pearl goes out to a casual dinner with her daughter, Debra, and son-in-law Edward. Pearl’s husband, James, cannot join them due to a terminal illness that has rendered him bed ridden. Debra and Edward pick Pearl up from her home, and off they go to dinner. Unbeknownst to Pearl, Edward has been drinking heavily all day. He continues to drink at dinner, until he is loud, out-of-control, and verbally aggressive. Debra and Pearl must cut the night short to get Edward home and in to bed.
On the ride home, Edward begins to direct his aggression towards Pearl. He begins to verbally assault her, using foul and abusive language. He is incredibly drunk, more drunk than Pearl or Debra have ever seen before.
Debra, Pearl, and Edward arrive back at Pearl’s house. Pearl uses a walker to move around, so Debra gets out of the car to assist her mother in retrieving the walker and making her way into the house. Both women instruct Edward to stay in the car, and that he is not welcome inside the home due to his abusive behavior and his drunkenness.
Debra helps Pearl into the home and back into her bedroom. While back in the bedroom, the women hear the front door open violently and loud footsteps in the house. Debra leaves the bedroom first to check the front door. Pearl grabs her Smith & Wesson Shield from the dresser drawer and follows a few moments behind her daughter.
When Pearl looks out into the living room, she sees that Edward has entered her home. She watches as he grabs his wife by the shoulders and tosses her to the side. He then quickly advances on Pearl. Terrified, Pearl fires one shot, hitting Edward in the stomach.
First things first—What is the Castle Doctrine?
The Castle Doctrine is the legal theory that every man and woman in the king or queen of their own castle. As such, certain rights are extended. We all have three castles: 1) The dwelling; 2) the vehicle; and 3) the place of business. When someone forcefully and unlawfully enters, attempts to enter, remove the occupant, or attempts to remove the occupant, of an occupied castle this law kicks into gear. Forcefully means that the bad guy used some amount of force in order to gain entry into the castle. This force could be something as little as turning the door knob to an unlocked door. Unlawfully simply means that the intruder is a trespasser—someone with no right to be on the property in question.
When triggered, what does the Castle Doctrine do?
The Castle Doctrine provides two very important legal benefits. First, if you must use force or deadly force to protect your occupied castle you have the absolute right to Stand Your Ground while doing so. Second, your use of force or deadly force in protection of your castle is given the legal presumption of reasonableness. This presumption is meant to eliminate Monday morning quarterbacking and prosecutorial second-guessing of your actions. The law is, essentially, extending to you the benefit of the doubt that you did the right thing when defending your castle.
What can go wrong?
The government can, on rare occasions, attempt to overcome the Castle Doctrine presumption of reasonableness by arguing that your actions were unreasonable beyond a reasonable doubt. This is meant for rare “one-off” scenarios. For example-
The local girl scout troop is woefully low on cookie sales this season. A girl from Troop 26241, determined to make a sale, walks up to the front door of Michele’s house. She hears movement inside, and instead of knocking, opens the door and barges on in with a cookie box in her hand. Michele immediately sees the intruder is a small child in a girl scout uniform, but is on a very strict diet and wants no part of the cookie sales program. Michele pulls her Glock 43 from its holster and fires a shot directly into Caramel Delights.
In this example, the girl scout has made a forceful and unlawful entry into Michele’s home! (Remember: opening an unlocked door is enough to constitute force.) However, it is clearly unreasonable for Michele to use deadly force in this situation. We can expect that the State of Texas would arrest and charge Michele for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon—alleging she was unreasonable beyond a reasonable doubt—and therefore not protected by the Castle Doctrine.
Now, let’s take a look back at Pearl’s case.
Did Edward commit a forceful and unlawful entry into Pearl’s castle? Yes! He was told explicitly that he had no right to be inside. He barged in anyway, opening an unlocked door to do so. What happened to Pearl? She was arrested, and charged with the crime of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon!
Remember, Pearl is 70 years old. She uses a walker to move around, and the only other occupant of the house is not in good enough health to provide any protection. The State of Texas went after her anyway, alleging that she was unreasonable beyond a reasonable doubt when she used deadly force to defend her castle.
Outraged? We were too. After months of appearing in court and waiting for news, the State finally scheduled Pearl’s case to go before the Grand Jury for indictment. Her team of lawyers at Walker & Byington prepared a Grand Jury defense outlining the factual situation that night and the applicable Castle Doctrine law. Luckily, the prosecutor read through these defense materials and eventually decided that they would respect the Castle Doctrine, and dismiss the case without Grand Jury involvement.
All is not well for Pearl quite yet though—the government refuses to release her pistol back to her until the statute of limitations has run! This means that they can keep her property for a maximum three years after the shooting. When asked why they were refusing to return her property before this three-year period, the prosecutor only replied “Because she shot someone!” Being justified in defending your castle may keep you safe from prosecution, but does not guarantee the government won’t make your life as difficult as possible.
Ultimately, why did the government decide to attack the Castle Doctrine and go after Pearl for this shooting? Why do they insist on retaining her property for as long as they are legally allowed? We’re not sure. But it is an important reminder that anyone can become entangled in the legal system. Stay vigilant—protect yourself, your family, and your property. We’ll protect your rights. — by Contributing Legal Editor Emily Taylor, attorney at the law firm of Walker & Byington
Emily Taylor is a former prosecutor and an attorney at the law firm of Walker & Byington, PLLC. If you need help with firearms or weapons charges, click here to contact Walker & Byington, PLLC.