Defending Another Person or Another Person’s Property Transcript
Our lawyers are often asked, when can I legally protect my neighbor and my neighbor’s stuff? We all want to live in safe neighborhoods, and watching out for our neighbors is a good way to start.
Fortunately, when it comes to protecting people, Texas law allows a person to protect any other person, whether a relative, friend, neighbor, or even a complete stranger, with the same level of force that he or she could protect herself with in the same situation. This means that if you see a person whom you reasonably believe is the victim of an attempted murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, aggravated robbery, or aggravated kidnapping, you can use deadly force to defend against that person’s attacker. Also, if you have a reasonable belief that a criminal is attempting to forcibly and unlawfully enter another person’s habitation, automobile, or place of business or employment, you can use deadly force against that criminal. If you reasonably believe that a criminal is attempting to forcefully and unlawfully remove another person from their habitation, automobile, or place of business or employment, you can likewise use deadly force. Therefore, if you’re out walking your dog and you see a person, whom you reasonably believe to be a carjacker, is pulling your neighbor out of his car and beating him, you’d be given a legal presumption that your belief that deadly force was immediately necessary to stop the attack and protect your neighbor was reasonable and therefore legally justified.
When it comes to defending your neighbor’s property, Texas law allows you to protect it, but the lines are less clear about when you’re justified. Texas Penal Code states that you’re justified in using force or deadly force to protect another person’s property in a situation similar to when you’d be justified in using force or deadly force to protect your own property, but then adds some additional qualifications. In order to use either force or deadly force to protect the property of another person, you would have to reasonably believe that the criminal was trying to steal the property or damage it as an act of criminal mischief. Or if the third party asked you to defend their property, you have a legal duty to defend the other person’s property. Or the property is owned by your spouse, parent, child, or a person who resides with you or is under your care.
It’s important to remember that you can only use deadly force to protect property in certain situations. For example, deadly force can only be used against a person committing a theft or criminal mischief if a reasonable person would believe it is necessary and if it’s happening at night. If neighbors would like to be assured that they would be acting legally in watching over another neighbor’s property, they should get together and share information about who’s and who’s not allowed on their property. Tell neighbors whom you trust when you’ll be out of town and write up an agreement where the parties have all agreed that they may use deadly force to defend each other’s property if necessary and justified.