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What is the Castle Doctrine and when might it apply in a Texas criminal case?

Texas’ so-called Castle Doctrine has become a topic of interest for people across the country due to the widely followed criminal case against Amber Guyger. Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was charged with murder after shooting unarmed Botham Jean in his apartment in 2018. At trial, off-duty police officer Guyger claimed that at the time of the shooting, she believed she was in her own apartment. Guyger lived exactly one floor down from Jean and was coming off a long shift. She claims she accidentally entered the wrong apartment, saw Jean’s silhouette and believed he was an intruder. She fatally shot her neighbor.

Guyger’s defense was multi-faceted, first requiring that the jury accept her assertion that she was operating under a mistake of fact. The jury had to believe that she indeed thought she was in her own apartment. Next, Guyger’s defense rests on the Castle Doctrine, which authorizes deadly force in the defense of yourself while on your property. Evidently, the jury did not accept Guyger’s defense, as she was convicted and recently sentenced to ten years. The case, however, raised interesting issues regarding the Castle Doctrine and when exactly it may prove successful.

What is the Castle Doctrine?

The Castle Doctrine is a term that describes the 2007 Senate Bill, which was passed to authorize the use of deadly forces under limited circumstances. The law states that if you are within your castle, which is defined as your home, business, or car, then deadly force used is presumed to be reasonable. The state bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the force used should not be deemed reasonable.

In the state of Texas, a defendant charged with murder or another crime of violence may be able to raise the claim of self-defense if they believed someone was illegally on their property; they reasonably believed deadly force was necessary; they did not provoke the person; and they were not engaged in criminal activity at the time the force was used.

In Guyger’s case, it is unclear whether the jury rejected the Castle Doctrine or the essential mistake of fact. Texas criminal defendants who acted in self-defense will want to ask their attorney about the castle doctrine to find out whether they may wish to raise this defense at trial.