Some might call him a heroic brother’s keeper, others a wild vigilante. Whatever the case may be, this neighbor in Houston, Texas may be charged with a crime for blasting away two intruders of his neighbor’s home a few weeks ago, testing the limits of a new Texas law likely to be one of the most tolerant state allowances of deadly force in protection of oneself, one’s property, and arguably the property of one’s neighbor. The new law, effective as of Sept. 1, 2007, “extends a person’s right to stand their ground beyond the home to vehicles and workplaces, allowing the reasonable use of deadly force when an intruder is:
- Committing certain violent crimes, such as murder or sexual assault, or is attempting to commit such crimes;
- Unlawfully trying to enter a protected place; or
- Unlawfully trying to remove a person from a protected place.
The law also provides civil immunity for a person who lawfully uses deadly force in the above circumstances. Note that Texas also abandoned the “duty to retreat” (observed in some jurisdictions) in 1995, carving out an exception that allowed use of deadly force without retreat when an intruder unlawfully entered someone’s home.
So, was what viligante neighbor did justified under the new law? To me, “unlawfully trying to enter a protected place” seems very vague, and may or may not cover what vigilante neighbor did. It also seems unfair to me that a person’s life could be required as the penalty for simple burglary of someone else’s house- that seems like a pretty harsh penalty for a petty criminal.
But you decide for yourself- here is a portion of the transcript of the 911 call, which you can also listen to by watching the video embedded here, all the way up to where the man cocks his gun and blows his neighbor’s intruders away, killing both:
Operator: “I’ve got officers coming out there. I don’t want you to go outside that house and I don’t want you to have that gun in your hand when those officers are poking around out there.”
Caller: “I understand that, but I have a right to protect myself too, sir.”
Caller: “Here it goes, buddy.” (sound of shotgun pumping) “You hear the shotgun clicking and I’m going.”
Operator: “Don’t go outside.” (sound of shotgun pumping)
The man became upset as he described seeing two men leaving his neighbor’s home.
Caller: “They got a bag of something.”
Operator: “Don’t go outside the house.”
Caller: “I’m doing it.”
Operator: “Do not go outside the house.”
Caller: “I’m sorry. This ain’t right, buddy.”
Operator: You’re going to get yourself shot if you go outside that house with the gun.”
Caller: “You wanna make a bet? I’m going to kill them.”
Moments later a shotgun was heard firing at least twice.
Both suspects died at the scene.
My opinion? I think this neighbor went too far, and that he probably ought to be charged with a crime for his conduct. We can’t just have people shooting anyone who looks like they are intruding on property that is not even the shooters. I don’t think the “castle doctrine” should extend to allowing people to become the neighborhood vigilante. Apparently, neither did the state senator who sponsored the new Texas law, who says the law was never intended to apply to a neighbor’s property: “[It] is not designed to have kind of a ‘Law West of the Pecos’ mentality or action,’ . . . You’re supposed to be able to defend your own home, your own family, in your house, your place of business or your motor vehicle.” I can agree with that. But I still think death is a harsh penalty for burglary. What do you think?