The tale of Joe Horn’s “no bill” (what we call “no true bill” in New York) didn’t catch my eye initially. So a guy doesn’t get indicted? That’s as interesting as dog bites man, right? But this was a Texas case, and as usual, it’s about a state of law in the Sovereign Nation of Texas that will make a New Yorker’s head explode. It did just that to Connecticut public defender, Gideon.
The “Castle Doctrine,” as it exists in civilized society, is that a homeowner can shoot to kill a person who unlawfully enters his home at night, but only if he cannot safely retreat. For many, this was a brutal twist of the law, since there was no requirement that the shooter’s (or anyone else’s) life be imminently threatened before the taking of another’s life. Instead, it was a “per se” rule, allowing the defense of a home, “a man’s castle,” by deadly force, subject only to the most limited of conditions. Killing was a last resort, rather than the front line of home defense.
So it comes as no surprise that Texas has a similar rule, but one that takes it a few steps further down the road of reason until it reaches that most Texas-like of all defenses, “he needed killin’.” Gideon explains the hornbook Texas Rule:
A person can use deadly force (as in this case) if he believes it is immediately necessary to terminate the trespass/burglary/robbery AND the property being taken cannot be recovered by any other means AND he has a reasonable belief that the third person asked him to protect the property. Actually, upon further reading of the statute, it seems that this last one is not a requirement. So, in Texas, you can kill someone you believe is robbing your neighbor without having the neighbor’s permission to protect his house. Don’t we all feel like men now
Ignore that last sentence. It isn’t part of the rule. This is Mark Bennett’s shorthand version of the Texas Rule:
In a Texas murder case, though, the focus is often not on the accused and his “legal right” to shoot the decedent, but instead on the decedent and whether he needed killing. Then the only question is whether the decedent was the right guy to do it.
You see, Horn’s house wasn’t being burglarized, but his neighbor’s. The cops were on the way. Horn called it in and was on the phone with them when the idea to kill the burglars popped into his head, and he went out and shot the two burglars in the back as they were leaving. Horn’s fear wasn’t that they were going to harm anyone, as the burglary was already over, but the two burglars (who, as Gideon notes, were hispanic) might get away. We can’t have that. Not in Texas.
So Bennett patiently explains to Gideon why the Yankee just doesn’t get it:
But was Joe Horn right under the law? I don’t know. He apparently didn’t know that the cops were right there, and so he might reasonably have believed that the only way to protect his neighbor’s property without exposing himself to a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury was to use deadly force. Even if he was wrong, though, there’s enough there for a grand jury to hang its hat on that it could justify a no-bill based on its answer to The Real Harris County Self-Defense Special Issues.
Did the complainant need killing?
Was the defendant the right guy to do it?
Don’t try this in New York. Don’t try this in Connecticut. And more importantly, don’t kill a person, no matter how much you think he needed killing, to protect property, yours or anyone else’s. Even Mario Procaccino wouldn’t have gone that far. It’s just plain sick.