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When self-defense turns into an assault charge

If you have ever been the victim of an assault, you may have attempted to defend yourself vociferously against your attacker, using whatever was at hand, including your own feet and fists. Texas has always had liberal gun laws, and the same extends towards the rights of its citizens to defend themselves against criminal aggression. But there are circumstances where a Houston resident can find him- or herself in legal hot water facing assault charges when a self- defense situation went awry.

What are the limitations of self-defense laws for Texans, and how can residents avoid running afoul of these laws? Let's examine some possible scenarios where problems could develop.

The overreaction

A big, strapping offshore roughneck is out celebrating his two-week leave in a dockside bar. Suddenly, a drunken 5', 100-lb. woman mistakes him for someone who once mistreated her and begins pummeling him with bare fists. He pulls out a pistol and shoots her.

Most would agree that is an egregious overreaction by the offshore roughneck. After all, it doesn't take a bullet to stop a petite woman's punches. If such a hypothetical situation were to occur, the man would face criminal charges, including homicide if the woman died.

The verbal provocation

A man is riding the bus home from his eight-hour shift at Burger King. He's tired, and all he can think of is getting out of his grease-drenched uniform, into the shower and then bed, before having to wake up and do it all over again. A group of teenage hoodlums also riding the bus begins to verbally harass him. After 15 minutes of relentless taunts and ridiculous threats of what they would like to do to him, e.g., "put him in the Burger King deep fryer," he pulls out a weapon and stabs two of his tormenters.

The use of deadly force in such a situation would not likely be justified. After all, while words can cause us pain, simply being subject to a verbal barrage is not normally justification for physically assaulting the person(s).

The lines are not always so clear

Not all cases are as cut-and-dried as the two illustrated above. In fact, many assault cases that began as self-defense have gray areas where the law can be quite murky. If you find yourself on the wrong side of the law in Houston facing assault charges, it's in your best interest to discuss all of your options with a criminal defense attorney.

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