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Can I Shoot Him?

March 24, 2022

By Thomas McCutcheon

A question lawyers are asked frequently is when a person can legally shoot someone. I always say please don’t. There are all sorts of myths about when you can use deadly force and when you can’t.  

When I was in law school, it was pointed out to me that if a person drew a line and said if you cross this line, I’ll shoot you that in Connecticut you might have to draw that line four or five times, each time warning the person that you were going to shoot them. In Texas, one line and one warning will get you off with a jury.  

There’s a lot of truth to that and let me explain why by giving you two local examples. In one case, a grown man assaulted a teenager and then continued the assault the father of the teenager at their home. The father shot the man and killed him. I thought that sounded fairly justified. The jury didn’t and he was found guilty.  

In another case, two guys got in a fight, the victim followed the (soon to be) defendant into his home where he was shot in the chest with a .20-gauge shotgun, and while on all fours, the defendant picked up a hunting rifle, shot the victim in the head and killed him. I thought that he was guilty for sure because it sounded like the fight was over once he had been shot the first time. The jury found him not guilty.  

I wasn’t there for either one of those cases and only know what I read in the newspaper. What we do know is that to use deadly force, the threat must be imminent and involve physical force, not just verbal insults, and your fear of physical harm must be reasonable. Shooting a large man in a dark alley who is trying to rob you with a knife would be reasonable. Shooting an unarmed person who you weren’t really afraid of would not be reasonable. Verbal insults do not justify killing a person.  

The real question is not “can you shoot someone”, it’s “do you have to shoot someone”. The answer better is that if you don’t shoot right now you will be killed or injured badly. If you do shoot, you’re probably going to get to know lawyers better than you want to. 

Buckle up, drive safely, and don’t shoot!


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