Another Law to Benefit Criminals

The risk of being a criminal should be shouldered by the criminal, not innocent Texans.

During the 2013 Texas Legislative Session, Sen. Royce West filed a bill that would have gutted the protections of SB378 that passed in 2007. It would have benefitted criminals at the extreme prejudice of law-abiding Texans. (See SB1349: A Criminal’s Dream Come True.) This session, Rep. Garnett Coleman has filed another bill that seeks to protect criminals from their own unlawful and violent acts. HB1627 would impose a retreat duty on the part of a would-be victim of a violent attack. It is painfully clear that Sen. West and Rep. Coleman care more about violent criminals than they do the honest Texans these predators wish to victimize.

History of a duty to retreat in Texas.

Prior to September 1, 1977, Texas imposed no duty to retreat before using deadly force to defend against a deadly assault, regardless where the intended victim was located. In 1977, for reasons that defy logic, the Legislature amended Texas self-defense laws and required a person to retreat before using deadly force, even when all of the statutorily-required elements of self-defense were present. In 1995, HB94 passed removing the retreat duty in one’s home. Thus, an innocent victim who was not inside their home could not use deadly force to protect themselves or their family, without first trying to retreat.

The 80th Texas Legislature in 2007 passed SB378 commonly, though inaccurately, called the “Castle Doctrine Bill.” Among other things, SB378 removed the duty to retreat anywhere in Texas, but with certain safeguards. There is no duty to retreat before using legally justified deadly force only if 1) the person is legally present at the location where they used deadly force; 2) the person did not provoke the person against whom deadly force was used; and 3) the person using deadly force was not engaged in illegal conduct at the time they used deadly force.  (See Tex. Penal code §9.32(c))

Repeal of the retreat duty did not change or diminish the long-standing requirements to use deadly force found throughout Chapter 9 of the Texas Penal Code.  The logic for repealing the retreat duty was sound and it was necessary to allow innocent people to defend themselves without fear of prosecution.  Prior to 2007, even if a person “reasonably believed deadly force was immediately necessary to prevent the other person’s use of unlawful deadly force” against them, they still had to try to get away before defending himself or herself.  If they got killed trying to escape, well too bad.  That was an absurd legal requirement that valued the life of a criminal more than the life of their intended victim.

Why protect criminals at the expense of law-abiding Texans?

Since all of the elements of self-defense must be present before a person can lawfully use deadly force to protect themselves against a violent attacker, who is protected by Rep. Coleman’s HN1627? Obviously, it is the criminal who benefits from this proposed legislation, at the expense of would-be victims.

Even if it is undisputed that a violent criminal was attacking an innocent person and that the intended victim’s use of deadly force was justified under Texas law, HB1627 could well result in the victim being hauled into court to prove that they were “unable to safely retreat.” A victim would have to prove, and a jury would have to believe, that a safe retreat was not possible in order to acquit an innocent person who facing a deadly assault. How many Texans will die at the hands of criminals because they hesitated to justifiably use deadly force against a deadly predator? How many will die because they tried unsuccessfully to get away from an attacker?

Rep. Coleman’s HB1627 is not merely ill-advised, it is shocking that he would value the lives of violent criminals above their intended victims. Coleman will argue this is not his intent, but the facts and the Bill prove otherwise.