Neither self-defense, defense of dwelling, nor defense of property appear to justify this shooting
Today I’d like to take a look at a shooting out of Lubbock TX that is suddenly getting a great deal of news and social media coverage—the shooting death of Chad Read by William Carruth.
As is so often the case, there is, unfortunately, a lot of confusion about how to understand the use-of-force legal issues in this case, with a great deal of misunderstanding of both the relevant law and how it should reasonably apply to the facts of this case. In addition, there’s a great deal of weight being put on factors that are, really, irrelevant to a proper use-of-force legal analysis.
So, hopefully, we can bring some clarity of understanding to this event, at least in the use-of-force law context.
Overview of the Facts & Video
First, a quick overview of the facts of the Chad Read shooting. It appears that Read was upset because his ex-wife, at the Carruth home, had failed to deliver their son to Read for his scheduled custody transfer. While in the front yard, and later front porch, of the Carruth home, Read shouted and postured angrily at his ex-wife. Carruth ordered the angry Read off his property, a command with which Read declined to comply.
Carruth entered his home and emerged a moment later back onto the front porch carrying a carbine (a pistol-caliber long gun), presumably to attempt to compel Read to comply with his command to leave the property.
The appearance of the carbine instead escalated the confrontation, with Read jumping up onto the front porch, leading to the two men chest-bumping each other. Read then reached for the carbine, and appears to have used the leverage of the long gun to sling Carruth several feet off his own front porch.
As Carruth came to a back-pedaling stop some 10 feet or so from the porch and from Read, he raised his carbine and fired two shots into Read. Read dropped like a sack of potatoes, presumably the result of a hit on his central nervous system, and would succumb to the gunshot wounds.
I’ll start by saying upfront that this could very well have been a lawful use of deadly defensive force by Carruth—but also that I can’t make that justified call based solely on the two cell phone videos that have been widely circulating. Also, I should note that this particular analysis is based solely on what I can see in those videos—as in any use-of-force case, additional information can result in a large change in analysis and legal outcome.
Given that everything discussed in this analysis is based on those two videos, I’ll embed them right here, so as to avoid confusion as to what I’ll be referring to. One of the videos of the confrontation between Carruth and Read appears shot from the direction of the Carruth home, and I’ll refer to that one as “Carruth from House,” and the other appears shot from a pickup truck in front of the home, and I’ll refer to that one as “Carruth from Truck.”
Carruth from House Video
Carruth from Truck Video
I should also note that there are essentially three grounds under which the Carruth shooting of Read might be legally justified.
The first is defense of persons, so self-defense or defense of others.
The second is defense of highly-defensible property, in this context Carruth’s home.
The third is defense of mere personal property—here Texas is unique in that it does allow for the use of deadly force in defense of mere personal property under limited circumstances.
Unfortunately, I don’t see evidence in these two videos of Carruth being justified in the shooting death of Read under any of those three legal justifications.
Let’s take a look at each in turn.
Defense of Persons: Self or Others
The most important thing to understand in the context of defense of persons, in this case, is that the critical moment is when Carruth makes the decision to fire the two fatal shots into Read.
At that moment in time, when that decision is made, were the conditions for the use of deadly force in defense of self or others satisfied? If so, we have a lawful use of deadly defensive force.
If those conditions were not satisfied, however, we’re looking at murder, meaning an intentional and unjustified homicide, or perhaps voluntary manslaughter, meaning a murder mitigated under circumstances of adequate provocation.
The conditions that must be met for deadly force in defense of persons under Texas law are found in a pair of penal code statutes, Penal Code §9.31 and § 9.32.
The first of these, § 9.31. Self-defense, sets out the conditions for the use of any degree of defensive force in self-defense, meaning in both contexts primarily non-deadly defensive force (incidentally, § 9.33. Defense of third person sets out similar conditions for defense of others).
The second, § 9.32. Deadly force in defense of person, requires that first all the conditions of § 9.31 are met, and then sets out additional conditions that must be met for the use of deadly defensive force.
Somewhat confusingly, each of those defense of persons statutes also includes Texas law on the use of force and deadly force (respectively) in the context of highly-defensible property, defined under Texas law as one’s occupied habitation, vehicle, or place of business or employment. I’ll address those portions of these statutes when I cover highly-defensible property, separately from our discussion here of defense of persons.
In Texas, as in 39 other states, there are four elements of any claim of self-defense: Innocence, Imminence, Proportionality, and Reasonableness. I’ll speak to each of those in a moment.
A possible fifth element of self-defense law, Avoidance, which speaks to the issue of whether there’s a legal duty to retreat if safely possible, is irrelevant here on at least two grounds.
First, the event took place in Texas, and Texas is a “hard” stand-your-ground state. That means that not only does Texas not impose a legal duty to retreat in an otherwise lawful case of self-defense, the jury is not permitted to even consider the possibility that retreat might have been safely possible.
Avoidance is also likely irrelevant on the facts of this particular case on the grounds that the confrontation occurred within the curtilage of Carruth’s home—but “curtilage” is an ambiguous legal concept in the context of use-of-force law, which I’ll address in more detail when I cover defense of highly-defensible property as a possible justification for this shooting.
With Avoidance presumptively off the table here, we’re left with the other four elements: Innocence, Imminence, Proportionality, and Reasonableness. That is, the critical question is whether at the moment that Carruth made the decision to fire the shots at Read, was Read presenting as a reasonably perceived unlawful, imminent, deadly force threat to Carruth or others.
Naturally, there’s a lot happening at the scene prior to Carruth’s decision to fire the shots into Read, and much of that is important context, part of the totality of the circumstances, that goes into a reasonable assessment of an unlawful, imminent, deadly force threat.
It’s important to understand, however, that the prior events, that other context, is not by itself sufficient to justify the shooting of Read—for the shooting of Read to be justified he must still have been presenting, in the moment Carruth decided to shoot him, as an unlawful, imminent, deadly force threat.
Whatever Read might have done even moments prior to Carruth deciding to shoot him, in that moment the decision was made to shoot, was Read presenting as a reasonably perceived unlawful, imminent, deadly force threat?
So, was he?
Well, if all we have to go are these two videos, and that’s our premise for this analysis, the answer can only be: It sure doesn’t look like it.
The “Video from Truck” video isn’t at all helpful on this question, because Read is off-frame to the left at the moment Carruth raises his carbine and fires the two fatal shots, an act we can presume is largely simultaneous with the decision to fire.
The “Video from House” video does have Read in frame at that moment, showing his back to the POV of the phone—and here I see nothing that would allow for a reasonable perception of Read as an unlawful, imminent, deadly force threat at that moment.
Specifically, Read does not appear to be armed with a projectile weapon, such as a gun of his own, and whatever impact weapons he might have (presumably really just personal impact weapons, such as his fists and feet) cannot be brought immediately to bear at the distance that separates the two men, and Read does not appear to be making any effort to close that distance.
For those wondering about the Tueller Drill, often if mistakenly referred to as the “21-foot-rule,” that’s, unfortunately, a widely misunderstood use-of-force concept and one that is often mistakenly believed to have much broader application than is actually the case. (The same is largely true of the Castle Doctrine, which I’ll discuss in the context of highly-defensible property.)
Let’s grant for purposes of argument, without having to take a tape measure to the actual scene of the shooting, that when the shots are fired the two men are well within 21 feet of each other, perhaps about 10 feet apart, such that the Tueller Drill is at least theoretically applicable.
The lesson of the Tueller Drill, however, is not that you can simply shoot any scary person who is within 21 feet of you. The lesson of the Tueller Drill is that a person presenting as an imminent threat can close on a defender within that distance in roughly 1.5 seconds, generally faster than a uniformed officer can present a holstered service pistol and begin scoring center-mass hits on the advancing aggressor. So the advancing aggressor can be on the officer before the officer can implement effectively defensive force.
I suggest, however, that this simplified paradigm is not applicable to the facts of this case, at least not in that simplified form.
Here we’re not dealing with a defender who needs to clear a holstered pistol. We’re dealing with a defender who has his muzzle on the target. That means the defender requires not 1.5 seconds to begin scoring center-mass hits but perhaps 0.2 seconds. So the relevant Tueller distance on the facts of this case is not how much distance can be crossed in 1.5 seconds, the “Tueller Drill” distance, but rather how much distance can be crossed in 0.2 seconds.
Well, 0.2 seconds is 13% of 1.5 seconds, and if we calculate 13% of 21 feet we get 2.75 feet. I don’t know for a fact how far apart Carruth and Read are when the shots are fired, but I expect we can all agree that the distance is greater than 2.75 feet.
Therefore, at the moment the shots are fired Read is nowhere near “inside” the relevant Tueller Drill distance that would apply to the facts of this case.
More importantly, however, there is no evidence I see from the “Video from House” that indicates that Read made even the slightest effort to close on Carruth at all. And if there’s no apparent effort to close, the Tueller Drill distance is entirely irrelevant.
But what about all the other stuff that just happened? The chest-bumping, the threat by Read to take Carruth’s gun and use it against him, the swinging of Carruth off his own porch by the angry Read?
All of that is relevant context to assessing the degree of threat being offered in the moment the shots are fired—but they don’t replace the need for some actual immediate degree of threat in the moment.
None of those facts—not the chest-bumping, not the prior threat, not the swinging off the porch—are sufficient either alone or cumulatively to justify this shooting, if Read was in fact offering no reasonably apparent imminent threat of deadly force harm in the moment the shots were fired.
And it does not appear that Read was, in fact, offering a reasonably apparent imminent threat of deadly force harm in the moment the shots were fired. It appears he was simply standing in place.
Now, all that prior conduct would certainly be relevant to assessing even the smallest apparent immediate threat being offered by Read. If the video showed Read even shifting his weight towards Carruth, or towards some other innocent person, or towards the entrance to Carruth’s home, even that modest conduct of a mere shift of weight becomes effectively amplified by the prior conduct—the aggressive chest-bumping, the threat to take the gun and use it, the forcible removal of Carruth from his own porch.
Had Carruth brought his carbine up, and there was the slightest indication that Read was moving in an aggressive manner at all, I think his shooting of Read would have been entirely justifiable.
But I do not see in these videos any such aggressive movement by Read at all in the moment that Carruth shot him. And absent an actually occurring imminent threat in the moment, all the prior conduct is just that—prior conduct.
You can’t shoot a guy solely because a few moments before he was aggressively chest-bumping you, you can’t shoot a guy solely because a few moments ago he was threatening to take your gun and use it against you, you can’t shoot a guy solely because a few moments ago he swung you off your front porch—none of those acts, alone or cumulatively, justify the use of deadly defensive force in the absence of a reasonably perceived unlawful, imminent, deadly force threat at the moment you fire the shots.
That said, there certainly appear to be moments in the confrontation prior to the actual shots being fired when Carruth would appear to have had all the justification he needed to use deadly defensive force upon Read.
In particular, there’s a moment in the “Video from Truck,” right at 1:05 seconds in my version embedded above, when Read reaches for Carruth’s carbine only moments after threatening to take the carbine from Carruth in order to use it against him. Here’s a screen capture of that moment when Read’s left hand is moving upward toward the carbine as he’s focused his eyes on the apparent grab attempt:
In response to this aggressive act by Read, Carruth takes a step back, lowers the muzzle towards the ground, and appears to fire a warning shot near Read’s feet.
Had Carruth instead taken a step back, leveled the muzzle at Read, and in that moment shot him dead rather than merely firing a warning shot, I’d suggest he would have been fully justified in that use of deadly defensive force. In that moment Read was presenting as an unlawful, imminent, deadly force threat.
But particularly with respect to the Imminence of a threat, Imminence comes and Imminence goes. Think of it as a window: the window of Imminence opens, and then it closes. Before it opens, defensive force is not justified. After it closes, defensive force again is not justified. If defensive force is going to be used and be lawful, it must occur during that transient period when the window of Imminence is open.
The fact that the threat might have previously been Imminent, even just moments before, is not sufficient if the threat is not still presenting as Imminent at the moment the defensive force is used.
In other words, the fact that Carruth might have been fully justified in shooting Read as Read was reaching for his carbine, does not mean he was still justified in shooting Read dead at some later time, even just moments later, if at that later time Read was no longer presenting as an Imminent threat.
And I don’t see Read presenting as an Imminent threat in the moment that Carruth shoots him, whatever might have happened previously, either as a threat to Carruth or to any other innocent person present.
Might Read have gone on to present as an Imminent threat? Might he have been about to shift his body weight to advance on Carruth or some other innocent person present? Perhaps—but speculation is not enough to support a use of defensive force, especially not a use of deadly defensive force.
Carruth cannot simply imagine that Read might have done this or done that, Carruth must have based any such belief on a reasonable interpretation of actual evidence—again, even a shift of body weight could be enough in this context, but there must be actual evidence that is more than pure imagination.
Is it possible that a witness of this event might provide such evidence in the form of testimony, or that a home security camera might yield a third video perspective that would provide exactly the evidence needed to support a reasonable perception of imminent threat on the part of Carruth? Sure—as always, additional information can yield very different outcomes from any legal analysis. But I’ve not seen such evidence, and don’t find it in these two videos.
Based on what these two videos offer, then, in terms of evidence of the circumstances as they existed at the moment that Carruth fires the two fatal shots into Read, it’s not at all clear to me that this shooting was legally justified, because it’s not at all clear to me that in that moment Read was presenting as a reasonably perceived unlawful, imminent, deadly force threat.
In the context of a legal justification of this shooting of Read by Carruthers as lawful defense of self or others, I don’t see either of those justifications supported by the evidence of these videos. Based solely on this video evidence alone, the shooting of Read could well simply have been an act of murder, or voluntary manslaughter if we consider the conduct of Read under these circumstances as adequate provocation of Carruth to mitigate murder to manslaughter.
Defense of Highly Defensible Property
Another possible basis for the shooting death of Read by Carruth to have been legally justified is that the shooting occurred in the context of defense of highly-defensible property.
Specifically, Texas law provides for a legal presumption that when a person is defending against an unlawful and forcible intruder into occupied highly-defensible property, that defender is legally presumed to have possessed a reasonable fear of imminent, deadly force harm. This legal presumption can be found in both the base self-defense statute at § 9.31(a) and the deadly force self-defense statute at § 9.32(b).
These legal presumptions of reasonable fear in the context of highly-defensible property are wonderful because they essentially give the defender almost all the elements needed to justify a use of deadly defensive force, particularly the elements of Imminence, Proportionality, and Reasonableness. (The element of Avoidance is already off the table in an otherwise lawful case of self-defense, for reasons previously discussed.)
The only element not explicitly presumed by this provision is the element of Innocence, and that’s rather “baked into the cake” when we’re talking about someone inside their highly-defensible property who is defending against an unlawful and forcible intruder into that property.
There’s no question that Carruth’s home, outside which this confrontation occurred, qualifies as highly-defensible property for this purpose under Texas law—Carruth’s occupied vehicle or place of business or employment would similarly have qualified as highly-defensible property.
Here’s the difficulty for Carruth in this context, however—at the decisive moment when he fired the shots into Read, Carruth was not inside his highly-defensible property—he was standing outside it—and there is no evidence I can discern from these videos that Read was making any effort at all to unlawfully and forcibly enter Carruth’s highly-defensible property.
Absent those two conditions of the legal presumption provision, Carruth does not qualify for the legal presumption of having had a reasonable fear of imminent deadly force harm, at the moment he fired the fatal shots into Read.
Had Carruth waited inside his home, and Read had attempted to unlawfully and forcibly enter the home, Carruth would have been fully entitled to that legal presumption of a reasonable fear of imminent, deadly force harm—but that’s not what happened here.
I know, I know, I can hear the screams of “But Muah Castle Doctrine!!!!!” from here. Doesn’t the “Castle Doctrine” apply just as much to the curtilage of the home as it does to inside the home’s four walls?!?!?
First, a quick definition of “curtilage.” Curtilage is the area immediately around your home that is part of the normal day-to-day use of the home. I caution that most of the law on curtilage has been developed around Fourth Amendment search-and-seizure law, meaning when is the government required to obtain a warrant in order to conduct a search for and seizure of evidence, and that the scope of curtilage for that context is not the same as the scope of curtilage in the use-of-force context, because it serves different purposes in each context (in the use-of-force context curtilage is much more constrained).
For purposes of this discussion, however, it would certainly seem that the position on the front porch and immediately off the front porch would easily place this confrontation well within the curtilage of Currath’s home.
So, wouldn’t the Castle Doctrine generally apply to Currath’s use of force upon Read within this curtilage?
The short answer is, yes. The long answer is it doesn’t matter, and if you think it does that’s probably because you imagine the Castle Doctrine to mean things that it does not mean.
Properly understood, the Castle Doctrine does one thing, and one thing only—it relieves the home defender of any otherwise existing generalized legal duty to retreat that might otherwise apply before the defender would be privileged to use defensive force.
That is, if the defender would have had a legal duty to retreat before acting in self-defense while standing out in the middle of a public street, the defender is relieved of that duty—it no longer applies—if the defender is instead inside his home or within the curtilage of the home.
That is all the Castle Doctrine does, relieve an otherwise existing duty to retreat. Period. It does not allow for the use of greater force than otherwise warranted, it does not allow for the use of force sooner or later than otherwise warranted, it does not provide a legal presumption that your perceptions are reasonable, it certainly does not allow for the use of deadly defensive force in the absence of a reasonably perceived unlawful, imminent, deadly force threat.
I will note that the phrase “Castle Doctrine” is often used, sometimes even by lawyers and judges, as if it meant all those things in that previous paragraph. The people doing so are wrong as a strictly technical matter, and generally if questioned closely will be revealed to be using “Castle Doctrine” in an overly broad sense to refer to other, distinct legal doctrines such as the legal presumption of reasonableness, which we’ve already discussed.
Sloppy use of legal terms of art that have specific technical, and often quite narrow, meaning can only lead to confusion in analysis and communication, and that’s a common outcome when people, however well-credentialed and intended, use Castle Doctrine in an overly broad manner.
So all the Castle Doctrine and the curtilage could do for Carruth here is relieve him of an otherwise existing generalized legal duty to retreat before acting in self-defense.
But so what? Carruth already has no legal duty to retreat in an otherwise lawful case of self-defense under Texas’ very aggressive “hard” stand-your-ground law—so the Castle Doctrine and curtilage are not granting him anything he didn’t already have.
So, absent Read presenting as a reasonably perceived unlawful, imminent, deadly force threat at the moment Carruth shot him dead, Castle Doctrine and curtilage do nothing on the facts of this case to justify that shooting.
Really, just a plain English reading of the legal presumption language makes clear that it would be inapplicable where the “intruder” is merely within the curtilage outside the home, and that the legal presumption applies only to a breach of the physical structure of the highly-defensible property itself.
First, the requirement that the highly-defensible property be occupied suggests the context is about protecting people inside the property, not outside the property. Second, it explicitly requires that the entry be both unlawful and forcible, meaning something was broken to gain entry. Nothing was broken by Read to gain access merely to the curtilage of Carruth’s front yard or porch, and there’s no indication he was attempting to make an unlawful and forcible entry of the home itself.
Bottom line, Carruth does not qualify for the legal presumption of reasonable fear that applies to a person within highly-defensible property defending against an unlawful and forcible intruder into that property, and the legal doctrines of the “Castle Doctrine” and curtilage do nothing to change that.
So, there’s no justification for this shooting based on defense of highly defensible property.
Defense of Mere Personal Property
Texas is unique among the 50 states in that it has a legal provision that allows for the use of deadly defensive force in the defense of mere personal property. In the other 49 states, deadly defensive force may be used only in defense of innocent human life, either as a purely factual matter or on the grounds of a legal presumption of a threat to innocent human life.
Like the self-defense statutes already discussed, the Texas statute allowing for the use of deadly defensive force is also found in the Penal Code, under § 9.42. Deadly force to protect property. In fact, also like the self-defense statutes, § 9.42 is really paired with § 9.41. Protection of one’s own property. Penal Code § 9.41 sets forth the conditions for the use of non-deadly force in defense of personal property, and then § 9.42 sets forth additional conditions that must be met to justify the use of deadly force in defense of personal property.
That said, while § 9.42 does have a unique provision for the use of deadly force in defense of merely personal property, it is not simply a license to shoot dead anybody committing simple trespass on your property, nor is it without a great number of conditions that must be met—and failure of any of these conditions strips away the justification for the use of deadly force and leaves the defender who fatally shot a purported property offender as simply an unlawful killer.
Among other conditions, § 9.42 allows for the use of deadly defensive force in the context of mere personal property only to prevent the imminent commission of specific enumerated offenses, specifically arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime.
These events did not take place during the nighttime, so theft and criminal mischief are off the table as a justification for Carruth’s use of force in this case, even in defense of mere personal property under § 9.42.
Further, I see no evidence by which a reasonable person could infer that Read was attempting an imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, or aggravated robbery.
With those conditions of §9.42 unsatisfied, Carruth would seem to have no grounds for attempting to justify his shooting of Read as a lawful use of deadly force in defense of mere personal property under Texas law.
Looks Like Manslaughter, Not Justified Killing
In conclusion, based solely on these two videos I fail to see a justification for Carruth’s shooting of Read as lawful defense of either self or others, as lawful defense of highly-defensible property, or as lawful defense of mere personal property.
Which would seem to leave Carruth with no justification at all for his shooting Read dead.
An unjustified intentional killing of another is generally simply first-degree murder. That murder offense can, however, be mitigated to the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter if the killer is believed to have been subject to “adequate provocation,” such that the decision to kill was not made in cold blood. And certainly, I would expect a reasonable jury to accept a narrative of Read having adequately provoked Carruth on the facts of this case, given the circumstances and Read’s own aggressive conduct.
Similar mitigation would occur under the legal doctrine of imperfect self-defense, also recognized by Texas courts, where the defender has a genuine but objectively unreasonable perception of the need to use deadly force in self-defense.
Still, both of those merely mitigate murder to voluntary manslaughter, not an acquittal.
Once again, I caution that this analysis is based solely on the two videos embedded at the start—additional information could well yield a different conclusion.
Finally, I should also mention that whether William Carruth is technically criminally liable for the shooting death of Chad Read—and he appears to my eye to be liable, on the legal merits, at least based on these two videos—is a completely distinct question from whether he will ultimately be arrested, prosecuted, or convicted.
Prosecutors have essentially unlimited discretion on all these steps of the criminal justice process, and they are entirely free to decline to prosecute even in cases where the legal merits would support a conviction.
UPDATE [11/27/21]: Received this comment over on my YouTube channel re: this analysis:
OK, folks, that’s all I have for you on this topic.
Until next time:
You carry a gun so you’re hard to kill.
Know the law so you’re hard to convict.
Attorney Andrew F. Branca
Law of Self Defense LLC
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