Protecting Third Parties in Texas: Law Enforcement and Civilians

by Michele Byington, partner in the law firm of Walker & Byington

 

Recently, a driver in Florida used deadly force to protect a police officer who was being attacked by a suspect. [See related story here.] The suspect had pulled the deputy out of the police car and had thrown him to the ground, repeatedly attacking him. The driver got out of his car and ran to the scene, warning that he’d shoot the suspect if he didn’t stop beating the deputy. When the suspect did not respond, the officer shouted, “Shoot him, shoot him, shoot him.” The driver shot the suspect three times and the suspect ultimately died.

If this incident had happened in Texas, would the driver have been legal in his use of deadly force to protect the police officer?

The answer is… Probably!

Texas Penal Code 9.33 allows a third party to use deadly force in defense of another. However, the person using deadly force must reasonably believe:

  1. That the person being attacked would have been able to use deadly force in self-defense, and
  2. That his or her intervention is immediately necessary to protect the person being attacked.

This means that if you were in the same situation as the driver above, you would be allowed to use deadly force to protect the police officer if:

  1. The police officer would be entitled to use deadly force, and
  2. Your action is immediately necessary to protect the officer.

In this situation, the officer was being attacked. It is very likely that the officer feared the suspect would inflict death, or serious bodily injury (broken bones, loss of organ function, etc.). Further, given that the attack was on-going, it definitely required immediate action!beating-in-tunnel-shutterstock_182357444-1200

Section 9.33 doesn’t just apply to police officers; this law for defense of third parties applies to any person. Therefore, if you see a civilian being attacked, the same analysis above would apply. While it can be hard to make a snap decision whether to use your gun in the spur of the moment, it’s always good to know the law ahead of time just in case. You never know whose life it might end up saving.