The following is a video transcript.
What if you walk out of a restaurant with your family and hear the distinct sound of a pistol discharging feet away? You usher your family back inside of the restaurant and you tell everyone to get down. Looking through the window, you see a gunman pointing his weapon at an elderly lady with her hands up. He begins to move the barrel of the gun closer to her forehead. You reach down and remove your concealed handgun from its holster. What can you do? What should you do?
We will address the frightening potential civil or criminal consequences you, as a responsible gun owner, could face if you make the hard choice to step in and protect another person.
The Defense of Others
Let’s look at the potential criminal consequences if you decide to intervene in the example given above.
The Defense of Third Person statute is found in Texas Penal Code Section 9.33, which provides you may protect another person if under the circumstances, as you reasonably believe them to be, you would be justified in protecting yourself, and you reasonably believe your intervention is immediately necessary to protect that person.
Essentially, you place yourself in the victim’s shoes. If they would be allowed to defend themselves, you can defend them to the same extent. It is not necessary for you to know the third person or have any type of pre-existing duty to step in and protect another. It is important to remember, even as a License to Carry holder, you are not under any extra duty to come to the defense of another, so long as you are not the cause of the situation.
If you see another person being threatened with unlawful deadly force, attempted murder, sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping, robbery, or aggravated robbery, you may step in and defend them with force or deadly force.
But remember, the choice to help is yours, and you will not be punished if you choose to stay hidden with your family and dial 911.
Keep in mind, the law requires you to reasonably believe in the immediate necessity of the use of force or deadly force. If you decide to defend a third person, you must be sure you know what is truly happening in a situation before using force or deadly force. If a belief in the immediate necessity of the use of the force or deadly force turns out to be unreasonable, the use of force or deadly force will not be legally justified, regardless of if you were just trying to help.
Legally Justified Use of Force?
What if you decide to sneak back outside and neutralize the bad guy who is about to shoot the defenseless senior citizen? Your use of deadly force will likely be legally justified because if we put you into the elderly woman’s shoes, you would be legally justified in using deadly force to stop the potential aggravated robbery, carjacking, or murder against you. However, you may not know every relevant circumstance surrounding a situation that you are not personally involved in.
Let’s look at another scenario. You’re leaving the store one day and you see a screaming and crying child being dragged into a vehicle by an older man. The child is kicking at the man and yelling, “You’re hurting me! Stop twisting my arm.” Everything inside of you says that this is an aggravated kidnapping.
You drop to a knee, draw your pistol, and fire at the man, striking him in the shoulder. The man falls over and the child falls to the ground and screams, “Grandpa.” It turns out the suspected kidnapper was a grandfather trying to discipline an unruly grandchild and get her in the vehicle to go home.
In this situation, your belief that an aggravated kidnapping was unfolding was reasonable and would likely be legally justified. However, if a jury finds that your belief was unreasonable, you are not legally justified, and you could be found guilty of aggravated assault.
Punished for Being a Good Samaritan
Finally, let’s discuss the potential dreaded lawsuit that may arise if you act in justifiable defense of another person.
What if you stopped the murder and the bad guy loses an arm because of your expert shot? He could file a lawsuit against you, seeking millions of dollars.
Good news: the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code provides that a person who uses force or deadly force that is justified under Chapter 9 of the Texas Penal Code is immune from civil liability for personal injury or death that results from the use of force or deadly force.
That will not stop the perpetrator from suing you, though. You will have to go through the painful headache of a lawsuit, but you will not have to pay any damages to the perpetrator, so long as you can prove your use of force or deadly force was justified.
Returning to our example with Grandpa, if you were found guilty of aggravated assault and not justified under Chapter 9 of the Texas Penal Code, you would likely be on the hook for extensive damages if he filed a lawsuit against you.
These topics aren’t easy and we want to keep you on the right side of the law.
If you have any questions about what you can legally do or not do to defend others in the Lone Star State, call Texas LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.