Claiming Self Defense for a Texas Criminal Trial

If you have been accused or charged with capital murder, murder, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide or assault in Texas, know your ability to claim self defense.

The legal strategy has become popular, as it often finds a sympathetic jury in Texas. Unlike other states, self defense is further decided by a grand jury during the indictment phase. If awarded, defendants and victims can avoid the cost and hassle of a lengthy criminal trial.

Self Defense of Murder in Lubbock

Chuck Lanehart was recently featured in an Everything Lubbock article on recent cases where self defense was deployed as a legal strategy. The results are mixed, but it is becoming more common, below are several notable cases in the past 2 years:

No Bill/Cleared of All Charges

Rene Quintanilla was initially arrested and charged with murder for fatally shooting Robert Rodriguez at a Wendy’s Drive-thru in April 2020. In 2021, a grand jury agreed to self defense and prosecution decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Quintanilla.

Notably, Quintanilla was attempting to break up a fight between his fiancee and Rodriguez’s sister, but was blocked by the victim. The incident was caught on surveillance video and shows his fiancee sustaining multiple blows.

William “Kyle” Caruth: the case that made national headlines involved a domestic custody dispute in November of 2021. The altercation was filmed on a smartphone in high quality, where Caruth asks the victim to leave his home while holding a gun. The victim, Chad Read can be seen arguing with Caruth, who fires a warning shot before there is a struggle over the weapon. Ultimately, a grand jury decided to not file murder charges against Caruth for the death of Chad Read and he was never arrested.

Grand Jury Denies Self Defense

Ryan Menegay was charged with murder for the shooting death of Christopher Guerra. A Grand Jury decided to indict for murder, despite a claim for self defense of a third person. Notably, Ryan Menegay had no relation to Guerra or Guerra’s ex girlfriend, other than living nearby and intervening during an argument. There was no video of the deadly incident.

Ongoing Criminal Cases

Montemayor claimed self defense when charged with murder for the February 2022 death of a transgender woman. Recently, the criminal defendant was denied bail and the criminal trial is still ongoing.

Jonathan Mermella was arrested for stabbing and death of Robert Flores in April 2022. A family member posted on social media about self defense to justify his actions, but it has not yet been decided by a grand jury.

Self Defense in Assault

In 2021, gunshots led to a man in critical condition after life-threatening injuries. The man was fighting with another individual on the property of a homeowner. Both were told to leave and a warning shot was fired, but the fighting continued. The homeowner ultimately delivered life-threatening injuries to one of the men. He was initially arrested for assault, but released on scene by police, due to self defense.

Similarities in Successful Self Defense Cases

Using deadly force to defend yourself, your property and/or others is also known as justified homicide. Stand Your Ground laws and Castle Doctrine provide legal justification for claiming self defense and causing harm, injury and death.

The State of Texas reports justifiable homicide when private citizens kill while a felony crime is committed, a small percentage of the total self defense cases.

homicide chartIn 2020, Texas reported there were 38 justifiable homicides by private citizens. In 2019, there were 69 felons killed by private citizens. In 2018, 48 were felons killed by private citizens. In 2017, 75 felons were killed by private citizens. The Texas Crime Report for 2021 has not yet been released.

Successful cases in Texas often share several similarities that can help a grand jury decide against an indictment for murder.

Factors that Help Self-Defense Cases

Video evidence: whether it is a smartphone camera, surveillance video or a homeowner’s Ring camera, self defense cases are easier to win. When there is a video of the shooting, assault or death, juries can decide for themselves what they would do in the same situation.

Deescalation: Verbally warning victims before shooting, firing a warning shot, calling the police, these can all be signs that shooting the victim was a last resort.

Reasonable force: How many gunshots were fired to defend yourself can be a factor. Stabbing a victim excessively or shooting a victim after they are on the ground could be considered too much force.

Aggressor: It is difficult to win a self defense case if you started the fight. Often, a crime or threat of violence is first committed by the victim. Burglary, assault or trespassing, whether towards your home, land or vehicle are reasons to stand your ground.

Weapon: Statistically, the FBI tracks weapons used in justifiable homicide nationwide. A majority are firearms, where they are more accessible and easier to deliver a fatal shot while using reasonable force.

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