If you stumble upon a situation where it appears a local law enforcement officer is in trouble, you may question whether you should help. But even the best intentions can mistakenly label a Good Samaritan as the offender.
So you might ask, “Does the law allow you to use deadly force to defend a third party?”
What the law says
Texas law allows someone to use deadly force in defending another if that person reasonably believes their intervention is immediately necessary to protect another from unlawful deadly force, or in response to the commission or attempted commission of some serious felonies like murder, robbery, aggravated robbery, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, and aggravated kidnapping. But you must place yourself in the shoes of that third person. If the law would allow that other person to use force or deadly force to protect themselves, then you would be legally justified to use the same level of force.
You might ask, “Could I be charged with a crime, or sued for defending a third party?” Under the American justice system, the criminal and civil systems determine whether your actions are justifiable.
For example, under the criminal system, let’s say a person is accused of wrongdoing, arrested, and taken to jail. But a grand jury later decides that their conduct is justified. In this example, our person who acts in defense does not receive an indictment for a crime, and didn’t even have to go to trial. However, we all know, even if you’re not charged with a crime, you may still be sued civilly. Under the civil system, anyone can sue anyone for virtually anything, including criminals who decide to sue a law-abiding citizen.
Should I Defend a Law Enforcement Officer?
So, “Is it legal for a gun owner to come to the aid of a police officer in Texas?” Legally, there’s little to no distinction between using deadly force to defend a civilian or a law enforcement officer. So, there are many instances where it might be the right course of action. But we must stress, there are many scenarios where it could be a bad idea. If it’s a last resort, and you’re attempting to save a life, that might be the right time to intervene. If you or the police officer aren’t in imminent danger, drawing your firearm could be a bad and dangerous idea.
Make sure you understand the situation before attempting to intervene. Our world is full of criminals who impersonate law enforcement officers and, conversely, we have plain-clothes and undercover police officers. If you decide to involve yourself, make it clear. Use your actions or verbal communications to show your intentions are to help the officer.
In the eyes of law enforcement, you could easily appear to be an accomplice of the criminal, approaching with a gun. As with any situation where you have to draw your handgun in public, once the threat has been neutralized and the scene is safe, holster your weapon or follow law enforcement’s instructions.
For any questions regarding defending a third party or coming to the aid of a police officer, call Texas LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.