U.S. Law Shield: Can I Use Force Against Someone Burglarizing My Car?

By Dave Dolbee published on in Legal

What can you do if someone is breaking into your vehicle while you’re at your house? Well, first of all, in case you were wondering what this crime is called, it’s burglary of a motor vehicle. Now, that’s what makes this discussion interesting, because as you may already know, you can have the right to respond with deadly force when someone is committing a burglary against your property. The problem here is that the statute only reads burglary, and there are multiple different kinds of burglary in the state of Texas.

Emily Taylor, an attorney at the law firm of Walker & Byington and a Texas Law Shield attorney

Emily Taylor, an attorney at the law firm of Walker & Byington and a Texas Law Shield attorney

The different types of burglary include: burglary of the habitation, burglary of a building, burglary of a coin-operated machine, and, of course, our topic today, burglary of a motor vehicle. Because the statute doesn’t specify which kind of burglary you can respond to with deadly force, we’re kind of at a loss legally.

The problem here is that there’s no controlling case law that says that you are allowed to use deadly force against a burglar who’s breaking into your car. I know you’re probably thinking I’ve seen it on the news. I’ve heard anecdotes about people who shoot at someone who’s burglarizing their car and that shooter doesn’t get arrested. Nothing terrible happens to them; they’re allowed to go on about their lives.

I’ve heard those anecdotes, too; the problem is that because we don’t have case law that controls if you use deadly force against someone who’s burglarizing your vehicle, you could be put in the position of being the test case for whether or not that behavior is allowed under Texas law.

If someone’s breaking into your vehicle in the nighttime, the law becomes much more clear. Texas statutes say that you can, if you act reasonably, use deadly force against someone committing a theft during the nighttime.

The person who’s breaking into your vehicle is doing so presumably to commit a theft of what’s inside, so if you witness this activity in the night time, so long as you’re acting reasonably, as determined by potentially a judge or a jury, you can have the right in Texas to use deadly force against that person day or night.

You always have the right to use force against the person who’s committing the burglary of a motor vehicle. Use of force can look like a lot of different things, could look like anything from verbal commands to stop to actually physically going over and stopping the person with your hands, engaging them physically with your hands.

It could look like everything up into pointing a firearm at someone, so the
question becomes, could you point your gun at someone and hold them at gunpoint until the police arrived because they’ve been burglarizing your motor vehicle?

Well, that would be a use of force, and a use of force can be justified in this instance. But keep in mind, your use of force has to be reasonable, it has to be immediately necessary, and it should be proportional to the amount of force that the person is perpetrating against you.

So while holding someone at gunpoint is potentially something that you’re allowed to do when they’re burglarizing your motor vehicle, keep in mind that the ultimate authority on whether or not that’s allowed is potentially a jury at trial, or a judge.

Do you know the laws in your state or whether there is case law regarding motor vehicle burglary in state? Share your state and answers in the comment section.

In this excerpt from a U.S. Law Shield News live report, watch Emily Taylor, independent program attorney with Walker & Byington, discuss the ground rules for carrying firearms into restaurants and bars. Click the video below to find out the significant differences between blue signs and red signs in Texas establishments, and how getting those colors crossed up could lead to some orange jumpsuit time.   If you would like to see these reports live on Facebook, click here to join the Texas Law Shield Facebook page and sign up for live notifications.

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Comments (39)

  • Jim in Conroe

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    In Texas lethal force may be used in defense of property under certain circumstances, primarily, if the crime is being committed at night.

    You really do need to know the law.

    Reply

  • Kristi B

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    I live in Washington State. Does anyone know the laws for up here?

    Reply

  • Marko

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    I dont know the law here in SC but I have caught 2 men breaking into cars including my friend Andy’s at 3am after coming home from a club. My other friend Jason got out of passenger side and snuck around other parked cars and surprised them. They both ran in my direction while I was hiding behind another car and was able to trip one of them and draw on him, the other kept running. The neighbor heard all the noise and came outside to yell at us and tell us he was calling the police (this was pre cell phone days). The police show up while im still drawn on him and tell me to put it down and away. Then they arrested him and asked if he could come inside to clean himself before they put him in their car! No I dont want him inside! He had shit in his pants, so I gave them newspaper for him to sit on. Anyways I did not get into any trouble at all, in fact I got no credit what so ever when it was posted in the news. They had been trying to catch these guys for months. I dont think people in SC can use a firearm to protect a vehicle from being stolen unless they are in it but Id like to hear what others from SC say.

    Reply

  • Terry Gay

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    Most people breaking into cars at night do so by breaking a window. The best thing you can do to stop them is to shoot them in the leg. It is non-lethal usually and they can’t run off very easily without leaving an easy to follow blood trail. Be nice to your thief and call them an ambulance while you are contacting the authorities about the theft and your shooting them to protect your property. I don’t want to kill anyone breaking into my car at night, but neither do I want see them run away only to try it again to me or one of my neighbors. Thou Shall Not Steal or be shot in the leg. Maybe the thieves will eventually learn to be afraid.

    Reply

    • Ken R

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      Terry, please check the use of lethal force laws in your state. Shooting to wound may work on TV and in the movies but in real life doing so, a shooter will most likely end up in jail. At the very least, the civil suit will bankrupt the shooter. Legal defense fees can run upwards of $50-100k. Lethal force is only justified when being used for protection of Life and/or preventing sexual assault. Check you state laws on use of lethal force.

      Reply

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