Does Texas HB 196 ‘Repeal’ The Castle Doctrine?

The bill does seem to add a "duty to retreat" clause to the defense of self, or of another person. But what about self-defense on one's own property?

  • Published 10 December 2020
Image via Getty Images / Natnan Srisuwan

Claim

HB 196, proposed by Texas state Rep. Terry Meza, would repeal a legal principle known as the castle doctrine.

Rating

What's True

Meza's bill would add a "duty to retreat" clause to laws pertaining to private citizens' use of deadly force when they are not on their own property. It would also remove robbery and aggravated robbery from crimes justifying deadly force when they occur in a location that is not that person's property.

What's False

The castle doctrine, a legal concept with its roots in English common law, usually refers to citizens' right to use deadly force on their own property without any duty to attempt a retreat. Meza's law does not add a duty to retreat clause for the use of force on your land or in your home.

Origin

On Nov. 9 2020, Texas state Rep. Terry Meza, D-Texas, introduced a bill that would alter three portions of the Texas code relating to an individual’s right to use force in self-defense. The three sections — 9.32, 9.41, and 9.42 — pertain to the use of deadly force in defense of a person, the use of force in the protection of one’s own property, and the use of deadly force in the protection of one’s own property, respectively.

The proposal drew sharp criticism from many Texans, with viral stories or social media posts claiming that the bill represented a repeal of the long-standing legal concept known as the castle doctrine, which is a broad legal concept that predates the U.S. Constitution and has its origins in English common law. While laws that enshrine the castle doctrine vary between states, the doctrine is almost universally described as stating that “an individual has no duty to retreat when in his or her home” and can use deadly force to protect life and property when present in his or her home.

On Dec. 9, 2020, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted, “Let me be clear. The Castle Doctrine will not be reduced. We won’t force Texas homeowners to retreat.” Meza argued on Twitter that her bill has been misrepresented by her political opponents.

To address the controversy, Snopes first looked at the proposed changes to the law presented in Meza’s House Bill (HB) 196.

Proposed Changes to 9.32 (Deadly Force in Defense of Person)

  • Adds a requirement that people using deadly force to protect themselves in situations outside their own home must be “unable to safely retreat.”
  • Removes language that explicitly states that a “finder of fact” in cases that involve a deadly force incident performed in self-defense “may not consider whether the [person using force to defend himself] failed to retreat.”
  • Removes robbery and aggravated robbery from crimes that justify deadly force outside of one’s home.
  • Removes language that explicitly describes an unlawful entry (with or without force) of a person’s home, vehicle, or place of business as a reasonable basis for the use of deadly force.
  • Clarifies that changes to this section do not require a person to retreat when the defender is using deadly force “in the person’s own habitation.”
  • Replaces “would be justified” language with “is justified” as it relates to using deadly force in defense of a person.

Proposed Changes to 9.41 ( Protection of One’s Own Property)

  • Changed to explicitly include “a habitation on land” (i.e., a home) as a form of property covered under this section. This section allows for the use of force “to prevent or terminate the other’s trespass on the land or unlawful interference with the property” or in cases when a person “reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to reenter the land or recover the property if the actor uses the force immediately or in fresh pursuit after the dispossession.”

Proposed Changes to 9.42 (Deadly Force to Protect Property)

  • Changed to explicitly include “habitation on the land” as a form of property covered in this portion of the law, which describes when deadly force can be used to protect private property.
  • Removes “would be justified” language with “is justified” as it relates to using deadly force in defense of land and property.

Analysis

If one takes the castle doctrine to be a prohibition on a legal requirement that people attempt to retreat before defending their own home with deadly force, Meza’s bill does not explicitly repeal it. As stated in her proposed legislation, “a person who is in the person’s own habitation who has not provoked the person against whom the deadly force is used, and who is not engaged in criminal activity at the time the deadly force is used, is not required to retreat before using deadly force as described by this section.”

More accurately, this bill limits “stand your ground” self-defenses, which are laws in various states that allow for the use of deadly force in self-defense outside of the person’s home. Meza’s bill does add a “duty to retreat” clause, but that clause only applies outside a person’s own home —  an area not typically considered part of the castle doctrine. The bill would also remove robbery and aggravated robbery from the list of crimes meriting deadly force when outside one’s own home, but again this would be a challenge to stand your ground laws, not the castle doctrine.

However, the bill does narrow, to a degree, situations in which the castle doctrine might apply.

For example, it limits the use of deadly force without a duty to retreat to “a person who is in the person’s own habitation” as opposed to “a person who has a right to be present at the location where the deadly force is used.” It also appears to remove some room for judgement in the interpretation of what situations call for deadly force with minor language tweaks such as replacing “would be justified” with “is justified” in several sections.

Because Meza’s bill does not repeal a narrowly defined castle doctrine, but does limit the scope of when and where deadly force can be used in self-defense with a duty to retreat provision, we rank the claim that HB 196 repeals the castle doctrine as a “Mixture.”