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Fact check: Democratic Texas Rep. Terry Meza wants to amend ‘Castle doctrine’, not repeal it; posts feature satirical quotes 

Update Dec. 16, 2020: Adding paragraphs 7-9 to further clarify how Meza’s changes would affect the “castle doctrine” principles in Texas.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

Social media users have been sharing a paragraph online that claims Texas Representative Thresa “Terry” Meza introduced a bill called HB 196 to repeal the “Castle Doctrine”, which allows homeowners to use deadly force against an armed intruder who breaks into their home. It also includes long quotes that allegedly belong to Meza. These claims are false. Meza sought to amend, not repeal this law. The quotes stem from a satirical source, John Semmens, whose writing taken out of context has previously caused confusion and misrepresentation.

Examples of the claim:  here  and  here  .  

HB 196 is an authentic piece of Texas legislation:  here  and would amend, not repeal the Castle Doctrine. The bill was filed by Meza on Nov. 9, 2020 (here).  

Meza explained in a Twitter thread that the bill has been misrepresented and its purpose is to amend the existing law to require a homeowner to exhaust the option to safely retreat before using deadly force in defense of themselves or their home (here).  

She added: “I filed this bill because the castle doctrine as it currently exists emboldens people to take justice into their own hands. While theft is obviously wrong, we have laws to address that. I don’t believe that stealing someone’s lawn ornament should be an offense punishable by death.”

The bill would add a requirement to try to safely retreat before using deadly force against an intruder, remove “robbery” and “aggravated robbery” from a list of crimes that allow deadly force outside of a person’s home and changes certain language, such as adding “habitation on land” when referring to using deadly force to protect property. The changes can be seen in detail  here  .  

Users have written in saying Meza’s changes are not an amendment but a repeal of the doctrine. Reuters consulted legal experts via email to weigh in if the amendment would constitute an amendment or an effective elimination of the “castle doctrine” in Texas.

Susan T. Philips, Executive Professor at Texas A&M University School of Law (here), told Reuters that “Under Meza's amendment, before using deadly force as a defense to protect a person, a person must retreat if she can safely do so,” but that “there is no duty to retreat in your own home before using deadly force in defense of a person.” In her view, this shows the amendment keeps the castle doctrine.

Geary S. Reamey, Professor of Law at St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio (here), said that Meza’s bill actually “restores the retreat requirement and the "castle doctrine" to Texas law.” He argued the exception to the right to recede only applying for a person in their home is itself what makes the “castle doctrine” in Texas. According to Reamey, prior to this proposition, Texas did not have a “castle doctrine” at all, saying the doctrine “only exists in states in which a duty to retreat exists” and that “the castle doctrine is an exception to the duty to retreat.”

The posts circulating on Facebook include several quotes attributed to Meza, including:

“In most instances the thief needs the money more than the homeowner does. The homeowner’s insurance we reimburse his losses. On balance, the transfer of property is likely to lead to a more equitable distribution of wealth. If my bill can help make this transfer a peaceful one so much the better.”

Reuters was not able to find any evidence or coverage of Meza ever making statements like this in local or national media reports.

Vince Leibowitz, Chief of Staff for Meza, told Reuters via email: “These quotes are 100 percent FALSE and completely fabricated. Rep. Meza NEVER said any of these things.”

In addition to social media, the quotes attributed to Meza also appear in several blog posts  here ,  here  and  here  , written by Semmens and labeled as “Semi-satire”. 

Semmens is a political satire writer who writes a column titled “Semi-News — A Satirical Look at Recent News”. Previous examples of his writing being presented as fact include:  herehere  and  here  .  

The earliest version posted by Semmens is on Dec. 4, 2020  here  . The story was posted as a part of his “Semi-News/Semi-Satire: December 6, 2020 Edition” 

A search on CrowdTangle, a social media monitoring tool, shows that one of the earliest iterations of these Facebook posts featuring the fabricated quote was posted on Dec. 7  here  . 

These quotes were then posted on other blogs and social media without the attribution to the author or disclosing that the content is satire. Examples of this can be seen  here  ,  here  and  here  .  

VERDICT

False. The HB 196 bill would amend the “Castle Doctrine” to exhaust the potential to safely retreat before using deadly force on an intruder. The quotes attributed to Representative Terry Meza originated as satire.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here  .          

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