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Harris County Case Raises Questions About The Use Of Deadly Force

Sheriff’s Deputy Chauna Thompson and her husband Terry Thompson are charged with murder in the strangulation death of a man outside a northeast Harris County restaurant. 24-year-old John Hernandez died after an altercation which was caught on video.

The use of deadly force is a frequent topic in Gerald Reamey’s classes at St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio. Reamey tells his criminal procedure students that it is legal to use deadly force if you reasonably believe your life is in danger.

But what if you start a fight with someone or use threatening language?  Reamey says if you provoked the incident you may not be justified in using deadly force. 

 “If I do start the fight the only way I would be justified is if then I break it off,” says Reamey. “In other words if I tell the other person wait a minute, let’s not take this too far, let’s walk away from this, forget it.”  

And if a person does use deadly force and they’re cleared of criminal charges, that may not be the end of it. The person who fired the fatal shots could get sued and the outcome could be totally different. Kenneth Williams teaches at the South Texas College of Law Houston.

“The criminal proceeding really wouldn’t have any bearing on the civil proceeding,” says Williams, who adds that the standard of proof is much different in a civil case.

Because of the legal issues that could result from deadly force, some companies are offering insurance policies that would cover the cost of criminal defense and lawsuits.

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Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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