What is my right to self-defense against multiple attackers?

A group of attackers can be just as deadly as a weapon. This can be terrifying. We all know we can use self defense in a one-on-one fight. But what if it’s an unfair fight? To what extent can a person defend themselves against a group of attackers, or multiple assailants? The answer may surprise you. 

Man Shoots Two People During Brawl, Including Ex-Girlfriend

The following is from a case recently decided by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, our highest criminal court. Patrick Jordan was getting ready to move out of state. After a long day of packing, he and a friend decided to have a drink at a local restaurant. Jordan’s ex-girlfriend was drinking at the bar and told Jordan he should buy her a drink via text message. However, once Jordan arrived at the restaurant with his friend, he was angrily greeted by a man named Jordan Royal. Royal, there with Jordan’s ex-girlfriend Summer Varley, aggressively shook Jordan’s hand and warned him to stay away from Varley. Jordan agreed he wouldn’t talk to her and in a move to avoid Varley, he sat far away from their group. 

Despite attempting to diffuse the situation by sitting in a different part of the restaurant, another member of their group came over to Jordan’s table to harass him. Shortly after, Varley herself stopped by the table and made rude comments. Jordan and his friend decided to leave the restaurant to avoid trouble. Yet, as Jordan left the restaurant, Royal, Varley, and three others were waiting outside. Heated words were exchanged. Varley, anticipating a fight, told Jordan to leave. But when Jordan and his friend made their way to his car, Royal punched Jordan’s friend. The punch knocked him out cold. Jordan, trying to get away, was pursued by two members of the group. Eventually, Royal caught up to him and grabbed his face from behind, “fish-hooking” his eye. 

As the two men struggled, Jordan could hear footsteps coming from every direction as the remaining members of the group, including ex-girlfriend Varley, approached. Jordan became scared he would suffer the same fate as his friend who still lay on the ground and be overpowered by the group. Using a pistol he kept in his pocket, he fired three times. He hit a parked car, the main aggressor Royal, and then ex-girlfriend Varley. Immediately after the shooting, Jordan asked restaurant staff to call 9-1-1 and surrendered his weapon.

Jordan On Trial for Aggravated Assault with Deadly Weapon and Deadly Conduct 

Jordan was indicted and tried for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and deadly conduct for knowingly discharging a firearm in the direction of Varley and another member of the group who was unharmed. At trial, the jury received instructions to consider self-defense against the aggravated assault charge because of the actions of Royal. However, the trial judge refused to instruct the jury beyond the conduct of Royal, leaving out the actions taken by Varley and the three other members of the group. 

In all trials, the judge instructs the jury on what the law is that applies to the facts presented during the trial. To assert any type of defense—including self defense when under perceived attack by multiple people—the jury must be instructed on the legal principle. When a judge refuses, it both prevents an accused from arguing the defense and prevents the jury’s ability to apply the defense to the facts presented.

Jordan was found guilty of the deadly conduct charge, but the jury was unable to reach a decision as to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. On appeal, Jordan raised six issues including four complaints regarding the jury instructions pertaining to self-defense. Jordan argued that the trial court erred by refusing to include an instruction which required the jury to acquit him if the State failed to disprove his theory of self-defense. In addition, Jordan believed the jury should have received instructions that his belief deadly force was necessary should be presumed reasonable if he believed that members of the group were attempting to commit murder or serious bodily injury. Finally, Jordan argued that the jury was improperly instructed regarding duty to retreat in the self-defense instructions, and that it was error for the trial court to decline to include language concerning use of force against multiple assailants. Jordan v. State, 593 S.W.3d 340, 345 (Tex. Crim. App. February 2020)

Appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA)

Jordan appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals to determine whether he was entitled to his requested jury instructions and, additionally, whether the lack of instruction caused him any harm.  The CCA examined the self-defense statutes in the Texas Penal Code as well as preliminary statutes relevant to definitions and statutory interpretation when reaching its decision. For example, the CCA found that the language in § 9.31 which stated self-defense may be used against “another” for the “other’s” use of force, which in this case, should have included consideration of Varley’s conduct and how Jordan perceived it.

The CCA also noted a defendant is entitled to a jury instruction on a defensive issue raised by the evidence, irrespective of its strength or credibility. As is customary with this type of issue, the CCA examined the case in the light most favorable to Jordan’s requested instructions. Bufkin v. State, 207 S.W.3d 779, 782 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006). 

In Texas, You Are Entitled to Use Self-Defense Against Perceived Threat by Multiple Attackers

Ultimately, the Court found that Jordan fired his gun because he had no other choice. He tried to diffuse the situation and retreat, yet he was chased. The Court noted that at the time Jordan brandished his weapon, his friend was already unconscious on the ground. In addition, Jordan was already under attack by Royal. 

This made Jordan’s fear of serious injury or death reasonable, and given the brawl continued as he produced his weapon, the fear of injury was imminent. It didn’t matter that it was Royal, not Varley, who used (potentially deadly) force against Jordan. The only consideration was whether Jordan’s reasonable fear of imminent harm derived from the actions of a group, and that the group included Varley. This, the Court said, was a decision the jury should have been asked to make. 

Citing a 1999 case, the Court explained, “’W]hen … an attack is being conducted by multiple people as a group, a defendant is justified in using force against any member of the group, even if the recipient of that force is not engaging in conduct that would, by itself, justify the use of force (or deadly force as the case may be).””). Jordan, quoting Dickey v. State, 22 S.W.3d 490, 493 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999). The Court held that the evidence demonstrated Jordan reasonably feared apparent danger from multiple assailants and he was entitled to his requested jury instructions. 

Texas Self-Defense Lawyers

If you have been charged with Assault, Aggravated Assault, Assault on a Family Member, Deadly Conduct, or even Murder, you must have a lawyer who understands and can argue these legal issues for you. Otherwise, you could end up like Mr. Jordan. The criminal defense lawyers at Westfall Sellers have argued and won cases involving self defense by multiple perceived attackers. If your case involves these issues, give us a call today at 817-928-4222 to see how we can help. 

By |2020-07-22T16:58:28+00:00July 17th, 2020|Aggravated Assault, Criminal Justice System|Comments Off on What is my right to self-defense against multiple attackers?

About the Author:

Frank Sellers is a trial and appellate attorney, who focuses on representing citizens and businesses facing criminal investigations and prosecutions. Frank maintains an active criminal trial practice, with a heavy emphasis on helping citizens accused of DWI.