Texas illustrates one end of the spectrum – where deadly force is allowed in certain circumstances to protect or recover one’s own property or the property of another person. Many states forbid the use of deadly force to protect or recover property.
In addition to the many situations in which it allows deadly force in self-defense, Texas law allows deadly force in defense of property if:
•The person reasonably believes force is necessary to prevent another from taking the property or to recover it once taken (if in fresh pursuit); and
•when the person reasonably believes deadly force is necessary to prevent someone from committing arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime, or to prevent a person from fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime; and
•the person reasonably believes that the property can’t be recovered by any other means, and that using less than deadly force might expose the person to substantial risk of bodily harm or death.
This is likely why, in 2008, a Harris County grand jury refused to indict Joe Horn, who shot and killed two men who had robbed his neighbor’s house. The story stunned many, in large part due to the entire incident being recorded through Horn’s 911 call. After the 911 operator pleaded with Horn not to go outside with his shotgun, Horn took matters into his own hands.
“I’m not gonna let them get away with this [expletive],” he repeats at one point, before saying “I’ll kill 'em.” After the 911 dispatcher pleaded with him that property was not worth killing someone over, he told him, “[w]ell, here it goes buddy, you hear the shotgun clicking and I’m going.” “Move. You’re dead,” is the next thing we hear Horn yell on the recording, immediately before the first of three shotgun blasts are heard. Horn shot the two men in the back, killing both.
Many were outraged at the perceived indifference to human life in the grand jury’s decision not to have Joe Horn charged. However, under current Texas law, the grand jury’s decision was not out of the ordinary.