Fighting Irish!


Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

So you’re celebrating Saint Patrick out at your local tavern, drinking your green beer, when some jerk decides that it is time for him to prove his manliness in front of his friends.

He aggressively approaches you, he’s in your face, he’s swearing. The crowd yells, “hit ‘em!” Should you? Can you?

What is an Assault?

As you learned from our Blog for last year’s holiday, even pinching someone on St. Paddy’s Day without their consent can be considered an assault.

—See Matthew Harris Law’s Blog: Weee Little Shenanigans!

A person commits an assault if the person:

1. intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another;

2. intentionally or knowingly threatens another with imminent bodily injury; or

3. intentionally or knowingly causes physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.

—See Tex. Pen. Code § 22.01(a)

Obviously, you’re not out looking for a fight, so you know that you’d be committing an assault if you hauled off and hit him. So the question is whether this jerk in the tavern has assaulted you. Well, if he hit you, spit on you, or threatened you with imminent harm, then the answer is Yes.

If he has already assaulted you, then what are your options?


A person is justified in using force against another when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect the actor against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force.

—See Tex. Pen. Code § 9.31(a)

Additionally, the threat of force is justified when the use of force is justified by this chapter.

—See Tex. Pen. Code § 9.04

However, there are some exceptions. Force cannot be used against another in self-defense:

1. in response to a verbal provocation alone;

2. if the actor consented to the exact force used, or attempted, by the other;

3. to resist arrest (except for some limited circumstances);

4. if the actor provoked the force, or attempted use of force, unless he abandoned the encounter and the other continued to use unlawful force; or

5. if the actor attempted to settle differences with the other while the actor was illegally carrying a firearm.

—See Tex. Pen. Code § 9.31(b)

Therefore, if you are innocent and this jerk has assaulted you, then you are well within your rights to use force against him to defend yourself. Now, just as you should not use a hammer to remove a fly from your friend’s forehead, you should only use the amount of force necessary for your protection. Remember, this is for protection, not retaliation.

Defense of Third Person

Now, lets presume for a moment that this jerk hasn’t come after you, but has come after one of your buddies. Like you, your buddy is completely innocent and hasn’t provoked this jerk who has come over to pick a fight.

You are justified in using force against this jerk in order to protect your buddy if:

1. under the circumstances that you reasonably believe them to be, you would be justified using force to protect yourself against the unlawful force you reasonably believe to be threatening your buddy; and

2. you reasonably believe that your intervention is immediately necessary to protect your buddy.

—See Tex. Pen. Code § 9.33

Enjoy Your St. Patrick’s Day!

Now that you know the law behind defending yourself, go out and enjoy yourself on this St. Patrick’s Day! Be safe, don’t drink and drive, and be sure to generously tip your bartender.

“It’s St. Paddy’s Day, everyone’s Irish tonight.” —Murphy MacManus, Boondock Saints

–Authored by Matthew L. Harris, Esq.,


Matthew Harris Law, PLLC – Criminal Law Division

1001 Main Street, Suite 200, Lubbock, Texas, 79401-3309

Tel: (806) 702-4852 | Fax: (800) 985-9479

[email protected]