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Hughes v. State

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant shot and killed a man, with whom he had a problematic past, after the man grabbed his friend and threatened her with a gun. Defendant was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. The court of appeals reversed. The state petitioned for discretionary review.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A defendant does not have a duty to retreat before using deadly force to protect a third person if the defendant reasonably believes that the third person would have been justified in using deadly force.

    Facts.

    John Hughes (Defendant) and Rodney Johnson had a problematic past. On the day of the events in question, Mary Hodge was driving Joan Goodwin and Defendant to Mary’s house. Rodney passed by in his truck and turned around to follow Mary’s car. Mary pulled over, and Joan and Defendant exited the car to talk to Rodney. Rodney cursed at Defendant. Joan testified that Rodney grabbed her and threatened her with a gun. At that moment, Defendant shot Rodney, killing him. Defendant was indicted for murder. According to Texas Penal Code (the Code) § 9.32, a defendant is justified in using deadly force if a reasonable person in the situation would not have retreated and the defendant reasonably believed that the deadly force was immediately necessary for self-defense. Section 9.33 of the Code addresses the defense of a third person, stating that such action is justified if the defendant would be justified under § 9.32 of the Code and reasonably believes that intervention is immediately necessary to protect the third person. The trial court instructed the jury that a defendant is justified in using deadly force when the defendant believes such force is necessary to protect a third person and a reasonable person in the situation would not have retreated. The jury convicted Defendant of voluntary manslaughter. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that Defendant was only entitled to use force in Joan’s defense if a reasonable person in Defendant’s situation would not have retreated. The state petitioned for discretionary review.

    Issue.

    Whether a defendant has a duty to retreat before using deadly force to protect a third person if the defendant reasonably believes that the third person would have been justified in using deadly force.

    Held.

    No. The court of appeals’ ruling is affirmed. A defendant does not have a duty to retreat before using deadly force to protect a third person if the defendant reasonably believes that the third person would have been justified in using deadly force.

    Dissent.

    In order to use deadly force, a defendant must reasonably believe it would be impossible to both retreat and protect the third person. The statutes should be interpreted to provide that, when a defendant is faced with the decision of whether to use deadly force to defend a third person, the defendant must retreat and forgo the use of deadly force if it is possible to do while still providing safety for the third person.

    Concurrence.

    The majority correctly affirms the decision of the court of appeals. However, the majority improperly incorporates the third person’s beliefs into the analysis. Under § 9.33, the only question that must be answered is whether the defendant reasonably believed that it was necessary to use deadly force to protect the third person from unlawful force. The statute does not implicate the concept of retreat.

    Discussion.

    In determining whether a third person had a right to use deadly force in self-defense, one of the questions that must be answered is whether a reasonable person in that position would have retreated. Thus, in deciding whether action is necessary, a defendant only has to possess a reasonable belief that a reasonable person in the third person’s situation would not have retreated. In this case, it would be counterintuitive to interpret the statutory language in § 9.32 to require a defendant to first retreat if, under § 9.33(2), the defendant can act based on a reasonable belief that intervention is immediately necessary to protect the third person. The reference to § 9.32 in § 9.33 is only meant to explain that a defendant is justified in using deadly force in any situation in which the third person would be justified to do so. This is consistent with requiring the defendant to reasonably believe that a reasonable person in the third person’s situation would not have retreated, as opposed to incorrectly requiring that the defendant retreat if a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would have done so. Therefore, the trial court’s instructions were erroneous. 


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