Law & the Courts

Judge Allows Cop to Use ‘Castle Doctrine’ Defense in Trial for Mistaken Apartment Killing

Amber Guyger arrives on the first day of the trial in Dallas, Texas, September 23, 2019. (Jeremy Lock/Reuters)

The jury in the trial of Amber Guyger, a former Dallas police officer who is charged with murdering her neighbor in his apartment, can consider the “Castle Doctrine” as part of Guyger’s defense, Judge Tammy Kemp ruled Monday, hours before final deliberations in the murder trial.

The Castle Doctrine, which was passed by the Texas Legislature in 2007, “presumes that the use of force is reasonable and necessary when someone is unlawfully and with force entering or attempting to enter your occupied home, car, or place of business, or when someone is committing or trying to commit a crime against you.”

Guyger, who shot and killed Jean in his own apartment on Sept. 6, 2018, was initially charged with manslaughter, but the district attorney’s office subsequently reviewed the case and indicted her on murder charges, with the implication that the shooting could not be considered manslaughter because Guyger admitted it was intentional.

The shift also allowed for Guyger’s defense to center its argument on the basis of “a mistake of fact,” as Guyger — who was returning from a 14-hour shift — claims she accidentally took Jean’s apartment to be her own, and mistakenly thought he was an intruder. Now, if jurors apply the Castle Doctrine, Guyger may walk free.

“If a jury believes she was telling truth that she was mistaken, that is an excuse under Texas law,” defense attorney Brad Lollar told The Dallas Morning News last year in the buildup to the indictment. “By filing a manslaughter charge instead of murder, law enforcement is depriving her of defenses she would have under a murder charge.”

The judge also announced in the meeting with lawyers on both sides that the jury would be allowed to consider manslaughter in any potential sentencing of Guyger. 

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