Texas, Liberty, and Killing Burglars
In the news recently has been the case of a 62-year-old man who fatally shot two burglars last November as they fled his neighbor’s house.
Although the full circumstances of what happened in this case are less clear than I'd like, there is one selection from a NY Times article which I do appreciate:
The Texas Penal Code allows the use of deadly force if the “actor reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary.” Deadly force can also be used to protect property when “the other is fleeing immediately after committing burglary.”In Philosophy of Law, there are often two citied justifications for the role of law in society: punishment and prevention. The death penalty is often berated for its failure in the second role, prevention, since death-worthy crimes are most often performed during moments of extreme emotional passion. Therefore, people will not (or temporarily could not) reason thru to the consequences of their action.
However, in the burglary case, this line of complaint doesn't work, because an argument to the effect that somebody premeditated to rob a house out of passion doesn't make sense. And in a state like Texas where its Penal Code allows people to use deadly force to defend themselves and their property from such burglary, this would make even dim-witted burglars think twice about the risks involved -- especially if instances of the use of such force are regularly reported by the media.
Unquestionably, there will be misuses of this law by people who were not justly defending self or property, but laws are necessarily an imprecise vehicle of organizing a society that values liberty. And from what I can tell, liberty in America has been unduly constrained in the last few decades, and even more so in the era where too many bad laws have been implemented and justified in the name of defending against (the nebulous category of) terrorism. Thus, such laws about using deadly force are legitimate and just in light of other American constitutional commitments. As for applying these laws, I agree with the assessment of District Attorney Kenneth Magidson (of Harris County, TX): every case involving deadly force “stands or falls on its own particular facts.” That seems a reasonable attitude to me.
[image] "An Individual Right" Red Planet Political Cartoons (Accessed July 1, 2008)
 Adam B. Ellick "Grand Jury Clears Texan in the Killing of 2 Burglars" New York Times July 1, 2008 (Accessed July 1, 2008)