Criminals in Texas beware: victims of an attack will no longer be required to retreat and can shoot you dead if they feel threatened.

Senate Bill 378, also known as the “Castle Doctrine,” is among a slew of new laws which take affect Sept. 1. The new law essentially reverses a 1973 law that required victims to retreat in the face of a criminal attack. SB 378, however, gives a person the right to defend themselves, including using deadly force, if they believe they are being threatened with aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault or robbery.

Stephenville Police Chief Roy Halsell supports the measure saying that it gives people “the right to defend themselves.”

He said the new law will change the way officers investigate these specific types of crimes and the charges levied against those involved.

“This law will change the way we investigate because we have to look at the facts a little differently,” Halsell said. “In more cases, we will have to refer the case to the district attorney’s office so it can be taken to a grand jury before an arrest is made or charges are filed.”

Erath County District Attorney John Terrill said the new law gives victims the right to “stand their ground.”

“However, it is important to know that even the new law does not remove several other requirements,” Terrill said. “These include the requirement that the person defending himself must reasonably believe that such force is immediately necessary to ward off a deadly attack.”

After signing the law into effect, Governor Rick Perry said the bill gives Texans the right to defend themselves against home, office or vehicle invasions.

“The right to defend oneself from an imminent act of harm should not only be clearly defined in Texas law, but is intuitive to human nature,” Perry said on his Web site.

Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) filed the bill that garnered widespread support from his colleagues.

“Current Texas law effectively imposes a duty to attempt to retreat before using force against an intruder,” said Senator Wentworth. “Texans who do not attempt to escape before using force to protect their homes, their businesses or their vehicles may be criminally prosecuted and face possible civil suits alleging wrongful injury or death.

“I believe Texans who are attacked in their homes, their businesses, their vehicles or anywhere else have a right to defend themselves from attack without fear of being prosecuted criminally, and if unsuccessfully sued in civil court by the attacker, all costs at court will be paid by the attacker.”

Fifteen other states, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Michigan, have “Castle Doctrine” laws, and other states are considering them. The “Castle Doctrine” was the law in Texas prior to 1974. At that time, the law was changed, making the use of deadly force justifiable only if a reasonable person would not have retreated. The proposed bill would amend Texas law to bring the Penal Code back to its pre-1974 state.

SARA VANDEN BERGE is Managing Editor of the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at 254-968-2379, ext. 240.