deadly force

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Deadly force refers to force which is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury. The term “deadly force” is frequently seen in the field of criminal law and is a key issue for certain convictions or defenses.

For example, in Texas a party is allowed to legally use deadly force against another person if they reasonably believed the use of that force was immediately necessary to protect against imminent deadly force, aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery by the other party. That said, a party is not permitted under Texas law to utilize deadly force in response to force other than deadly force. 

Because deadly force is only legal under specific circumstances, establishing whether a given action qualifies as deadly force is often the subject of dispute. For example, in Jarret v. Town of Yarmouth, the court concluded that releasing a police dog on a suspect does not qualify as deadly force and therefore does not need to be justified by the stringent standards of legal deadly force. 

[Last updated in August of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]