All Posts By

Brandon Barnett

SBA Loans Criminal History

SBA Loans Limitations Based on Criminal History

By | Criminal Defense

Can I apply for an SBA Loan if I have a criminal history?

SBA Loans Criminal HistoryCountless small businesses have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The US Government has several different loan programs offered through the Small Business Administration aimed at helping small business get through the crisis and maintain jobs for their employees. Many of the SBA loan programs for the COVID-19 crisis can be found on the SBA website COVID-19 section.

One of the questions that we have received during the last couple of weeks is whether a person with a criminal history can apply for an SBA loan. The answer is…it depends. It depends on the nature of the criminal offense.

What will disqualify me from applying for an SBA loan?

When it comes to criminal history, the following will disqualify a company and make it ineligible for SBA assistance.

If an owner of the company (who owns 20% or more) answers YES to any of the following questions taken from the SBA application, then the company is NOT eligible to apply for SBA assistance:

  • Are you currently incarcerated?
  • Have you been adjudicated for a felony in the preceding 5 years? This includes
    • Felony conviction;
    • Plea of guilty to a felony offense;
    • Plea of nolo contendere (no contest) to a felony;
    • Participating in a pre-trial diversion program for a felony offense;
    • Probation or Deferred Adjudication for a felony offense.
  • Are you currently on probation for a felony or a misdemeanor?
  • Are you currently on parole?
  • Are there pending criminal charges against you that have not yet been adjudicated (felony or misdemeanor)?

*NOTE: There is also a question on the Economic Injury Disaster Loan that asks whether an applicant has been arrested (even if the charge was dismissed) for any criminal offense (other than a minor motor vehicle violation). It is unclear whether an arrest by itself is a disqualifier or just a point of inquiry.

If a 20% (or more) owner answers YES to any of those questions, then the company will not even be able to complete its application for SBA assistance.

In the past, it seemed that the SBA was only concerned with felony criminal history (see 13 CFR 120.110), but the new applications for the COVID relief do not distinguish between felonies and misdemeanors when it comes to either active probationers or individuals with pending charges.  This is especially difficult for individuals that have a pending criminal charge to which they have pleaded not guilty and not yet received their day in court. To sink their business while at the same time presuming them innocent is not in keeping with the spirit of the presumption itself.

Please be reminded that it is a federal offense to falsify a loan application, so please don’t do that.

Paycheck Protection Loan Application

Economic Injury Disaster Loan

Reckless Texas Penal Code

What does Recklessness Mean in Texas Criminal Law?

By | Criminal Defense

Defining “Recklessness” Under the Texas Penal Code

Reckless Texas Penal CodeThere are some criminal offenses that require the state the prove that the defendant acted “recklessly” or with “criminal recklessness.” In a colloquial sense, we (including prosecutors) often think of recklessness as another word for carelessness, but it actually has a specific definition in the Texas Penal Code.

Defining “Recklessness,” Tex. Penal Code Section 6.03(c) states that “a person acts recklessly, or is reckless, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist, or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.”

What Does the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Say About Recklessness?

Unpacking the legal standard of recklessness, The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reasons that…

“Criminal recklessness must not be confused with (or blended into) criminal negligence, a lesser culpable mental state.” Williams v. State, 235 S.W.3d 742, 751 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007). “Criminal negligence depends upon a morally blameworthy failure to appreciate a substantial and unjustifiable risk while recklessness depends upon a more serious moral blameworthiness – the actual disregard of a known substantial and unjustifiable risk.” Id.

Criminal negligence and recklessness differ from one another only in terms of mental state:

  • Criminally negligent defendant “ought to be aware” of a substantial and unjustifiable risk;
  • Reckless defendant is subjectively aware of an identical risk but disregards it

The two prongs of gross negligence or recklessness are:

  • Subjectively, the defendant must have actual awareness of the extreme risk created by his or her conduct.
  • Objectively, the defendant’s conduct must involve an extreme degree of risk (the “extreme risk” prong is not satisfied by a remote possibility of injury or high probability of minor harm, but the likelihood of serious injury to the plaintiff).

Reckless conduct…

  • Is the conscious disregard of the risk created by the actor’s conduct;
  • Mere lack of foresight, stupidity, irresponsibility, thoughtlessness, ordinary carelessness, however, serious the consequences may be, do not suffice to constitute criminal recklessness;
  • Criminal recklessness is of a gross and flagrant character, evincing reckless disregard of human life, or of the safety of persons exposed to its dangerous effects; or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of a conscious indifference to consequences; or which shows such wantonness or recklessness or a grossly careless disregard of the safety and welfare of the public, or that reckless indifference to the rights of others, which is equivalent to an intentional violation of them.

Recklessness: Texas Case Law Examples

Williams v. State, 235 S.W.3d 742 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007): The defendant was convicted after her children died in an accidental house fire while her boyfriend was babysitting. The defendant took the children to a house without working utilities and left them under her boyfriend’s care with a candle lit in their bedroom. The court held that there was legally insufficient evidence that defendant consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the children would suffer serious bodily injury in a house fire. The court also said that the defendant’s stupidity did not constitute reckless disregard. The defendant was not criminally responsible for the result

Mills v. State, 742 S.W.2d 831, 1987 Tex. App. LEXIS 9214 (Tex. App. Dallas Dec. 18. 1987, no writ): The defendant’s conviction was upheld where circumstantial evidence supported the conclusion that defendant placed a child in a tub of hot water. The Court found that the jury could reasonably have found defendant acted recklessly with regard to that child’s care in violation of Tex. Penal Code § 6.03(c).

Ehrhardt v. State, No. 06-02-00208-CR, 2003 Tex. App. LEXIS 7248 (Tex. App. Texarkana Aug. 26, 2003): Where the evidence in an assault trial showed defendant struck the victim in the face, the court found that the defendant was reckless as to whether her conduct would result in bodily injury.

Criminal Negligence Texas

Defining Criminal Negligence Under Texas Law

By | Criminal Defense, Criminal Negligence

What is Criminal Negligence in Texas?

Criminal Negligence TexasIn Texas, there are some criminal offenses for which a person can be liable if they acted with “criminal negligence.” When most people think of “negligence,” they think of a civil standard used in lawsuits for money damages. But criminal negligence, the courts have reasoned, is different from ordinary civil negligence.

Section 6.03(d) of the Texas Penal Code states that “a person acts with criminal negligence, or is criminally negligent, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.”

How does Criminal Negligence Differ from Civil Negligence in Texas?

Civil or simple negligence means the failure to use ordinary care, that is, failing to do that which a person of ordinary prudence would not have done under the same or similar circumstances. Montgomery v. State, 369 S.W.3d 188, 193 (Tex. Crim. App. 2012). Conversely, conduct that constitutes criminal negligence involves a greater risk of harm to others, without any compensating social utility, than does simple negligence. Id. The carelessness required for criminal negligence is significantly higher than that for civil negligence; the seriousness of the negligence would be known by any reasonable person sharing the community’s sense of right and wrong. Id. The risk must be substantial and unjustifiable, and the failure to perceive it must be a gross deviation from reasonable care as judged by general societal standards by ordinary people. Id.

For example: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has held that criminally negligent homicide requires not only a failure to perceive a risk of death, but also some serious blameworthiness in the conduct that caused it (i.e., risk must be “substantial and unjustifiable,” and the failure to perceive that risk must be a “gross deviation” from reasonable care).

In finding a defendant criminal negligent, a jury is determining that the defendant’s failure to perceive the associated risk is so great as to be worthy of a criminal punishment. The degree of deviation from reasonable care is measured solely by the degree of negligence, not any element of actual awareness. Whether a defendant’s conduct involves an extreme degree of risk must be determined by the conduct itself and not by the resultant harm. Nor can criminal liability be predicated on every careless act merely because its carelessness results in death or injury to another.

Case Law Examples of Criminal Negligence Standard in Texas

McKay v. State, 474 S.W.3d 266 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015): The Court of Criminal Appeals holding insufficient evidence of criminal negligence to support Defendant’s conviction for injury to a child after he spilled hot water on the two-year-old child while he was in the kitchen, because there was no evidence that Defendant failed to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk to the child. There was no showing that the child was often underfoot or that defendant knew the child could likely be under his feet while moving around in the kitchen.

Queeman v. State, 520 S.W.3d 616 (Tex. Crim. App. 2017): The Court of Criminal Appeals holding insufficient evidence to support defendant’s conviction of criminally negligent homicide because the evidence presented does not show that Defendant’s failure to maintain a safe driving speed and keep a proper distance from other vehicles was a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary diver would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from Defendant’s standpoint at the time of his conduct.

Tello v. State, 180 S.W.3d 150 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005): The Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Appellant’s criminal negligent homicide conviction reasoning that Appellant should have perceived a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death from using a faulty trailer hitch without safety chains on a public road. The homemade trailer unhitched from Appellant’s truck and killed a pedestrian.

TSA Airport Gun Charges Texas

What to do if Arrested for Bringing a Gun to the Airport (Accidentally)

By | Criminal Defense, Weapons Charges

Unlawful Carrying of a Weapon at an Airport in Texas

TSA Airport Gun Charges TexasWe love our guns in Texas. After all, those licensed to carry a handgun can now choose to conceal the handgun or wear it on their hip like in the old west. But carrying a handgun comes with its risks. Many places are designated as “off limits” for handguns. Chief among them is the airport. And everyday, well-meaning folks forget about their trusty handgun when they pack their bags and head to DFW International Airport or Love Field, only to be reminded by a less-than-friendly TSA agent as they attempt to pass through security. In fact, Texas is the #1 state for airport gun seizures in the country (and DFW International Airport leads the way in Texas).

 

CALL US TODAY – (817) 993-9249

 

What Can Happen if I Accidentally Bring a Gun Through Security at DFW Airport or Love Field Airport?

Generally, if you carry a firearm through the security checkpoint at an airport, you can be detained and arrested. Carrying a firearm, either on your person or in your carry-on luggage, is a violation of Texas Penal Code Sections 46.02 and 46.03. The detention and arrest could take several hours and will likely cause you to miss your flight as you move through the process. The DFW Airport or Love Field Police will also confiscate your handgun. If you are arrested for bringing a handgun to the airport, your case will be filed with the Tarrant County District Attorney (for DFW Airport case) or Dallas County District Attorney (for Love Field cases).

How Serious is an Arrest for Bringing a Firearm to the Airport in Texas?

Depending on how the authorities choose to proceed, you could be charged with 3rd Degree Felony or a Class A Misdemeanor. A 3rd Degree Felony carries a range of punishment from 2-10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000. A Class A Misdemeanor carries a punishment range of 0-365 days in the County Jail and a fine up to $4,000. We handle several airport gun cases every year and in our experience, the Tarrant County DA typically files the case as a Class A misdemeanor, while cases that originate in Dallas Love Field Airport usually see the higher felony charge.

What Should I Do After I am Arrested for an Airport Gun Charge?

After you post bond and are released from custody, you need to hire a lawyer to help defend you on the charges. You should also consider signing up for a local gun safety course so that you can demonstrate that you understand the severity of your mistake and are taking steps to ensure that it does not happen again. Other than that, follow the advice of your attorney. Do not attempt to get your gun back. Your lawyer can help you do that with a court order, if appropriate, once the case is closed.

 

CALL US TODAY – (817) 993-9249

 

I Have an LTC (CHL). Are There Any Exceptions for Me?

Yes. In 2015, the Texas legislature added some language to Section 46.03 to provide for LTC holders who accidentally forgot about their weapon. Section 46.03 now provides:

(e-1) It is a defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(5) that the actor:
(1) possessed, at the screening checkpoint for the secured area, a concealed handgun that the actor was licensed to carry under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code;  and
(2) exited the screening checkpoint for the secured area immediately upon completion of the required screening processes and notification that the actor possessed the handgun.
(e-2) A peace officer investigating conduct that may constitute an offense under Subsection (a)(5) and that consists only of an actor’s possession of a concealed handgun that the actor is licensed to carry under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code, may not arrest the actor for the offense unless:
(1) the officer advises the actor of the defense available under Subsection (e-1) and gives the actor an opportunity to exit the screening checkpoint for the secured area;  and
(2) the actor does not immediately exit the checkpoint upon completion of the required screening processes.

So, basically, they are going to give you a chance to leave the secured area as soon as your mistake is realized. They cannot arrest a valid LTC holder unless the person refuses to leave the secured area immediately. There is no such exception for non-LTC holders. Licensed concealed firearm holder from other states should also be given the same opportunity to leave the secured area immediately in order to avoid arrest.

How Can I Lawfully Carry a Firearm on a Flight?

To carry a firearm on a flight, you must place the firearm in your checked baggage and declare it at the time you check your bags. Also, you should check the TSA guidelines before packing to ensure that you follow all of the rules and regulations.

TSA Sent Me a Demand for Money After I was Arrested. What Should I Do?

The law allows for TSA to send a civil demand letter for money damages. TSA officials consider the “severity” of your violation and then send a demand for money within the range that they consider appropriate. They will typically allow for your to pay less than the demanded amount if you pay quickly.

*See this sample TSA Civil Demand Letter.

You may pay the full demand, file a written response, or contact TSA to see if you can work out an arrangement. We have been able to help our clients pay less than what is demanded, but every case is different.

Will I Receive a Criminal Conviction on My Record For Accidentally Bringing My Gun to the Airport?

It depends. Many of our clients that were charged with Unlawfully Carrying a Weapon in the airport have had their cases dismissed. In fact, most have had their cases dismissed. But again, every case is different. The key is to contact an attorney right away so that your rights may be preserved throughout the criminal justice process.  Our team regularly handles airport gun cases arising out of DFW International Airport or Love Field Airport. We have offices in Keller and Fort Worth and offer free consultations.

 

CALL US TODAY – (817) 993-9249

BHW Coloring Contest Keller

Christmas Coloring Contest 2019

By | Just For Fun

Calling All Artists 12 & Under!!!

 

2019 BHW Christmas Coloring Contest

Barnett Howard & Williams (Keller location) is having a Christmas Coloring Contest. Several business in Keller have partnered with us to offer some great prizes! We will award prizes to 2 different age groups. Age Groups are 0 – 7 and 8 – 12.

PRIZES (Awarded to Both Age Groups)

First Prize = 2 Movie Tickets and a $30.00 Gift Card to the Keller Moviehouse & Eatery.

 

Second Prize = A $25.00 Gift Card to Chick-fil-A.

 

Third Prize = A $15.00 Gift Card t0 Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers.

 

What to Do:

STEP ONE: Download one (or both) of the Coloring Sheets below and print them out. You may also pick up a coloring sheet from our office located at 101 Quest Court, Keller, Texas 76248.

STEP TWO: Sharpen your crayons or coloring pencils and color your chosen picture. Don’t forget to include your name and age.

STEP THREE: Drop off your completed masterpiece at our Keller office – 101 Quest Court, Keller, Texas 76248 by December 20, 2019. We are located right next to Keystone Church.

Southlake Keller Colleyville Criminal Defense DWI Office

STEP FOUR: Follow us on Facebook, where we will announce the winners on Monday, December 23rd, 2019.

 

Have Fun and Merry Christmas!

Reasonable Parental Discipline Texas Spanking Illegal

Spare the Rod or Spoil the Child: Is Spanking a Crime in Texas?

By | Assault

Can a Parent Spank a Child in Texas? Corporal Punishment and The Reasonable Discipline Defense

Parents Spanking in TexasIs Spanking illegal in Texas? No, spanking is not illegal in Texas under most circumstances. The Texas Penal Code provides a defense for parents charged with Injury to a Child under Section 22.04 when the force was used to “reasonably discipline the child.”

Specifically, Section 9.61 provides that a parent’s use of force, but not deadly force, against a child will be justified if the parent “reasonably believes the force is necessary to discipline the child or to safeguard or promote his welfare.” A reasonable belief is what an ordinary and prudent man would believe in the same or similar circumstances as the actor. It is not based on the particular belief of that parent. This is important to understand, because a parent could use force that they feel is the appropriate discipline for their child in that situation, when in fact that force could easily be an act of abuse that results in facing charges of a third degree felony.

When Does Spanking and Corporal Punishment Cross the Line and Become a Criminal Offense? When is Spanking Illegal in Texas?

In Texas, it is a known practice for parents to spank their children and it is perfectly legal to do so, but the main question is when does spanking or other corporal punishment cross the line to child abuse. When is spanking illegal in Texas? The Texas Penal Code states that child abuse occurs when the force results in bodily injury. Bodily injury means “physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.” Tex. Penal Code §1.07(8). Often, this is when use of force leaves some sort of mark, like a bruise or a cut. However, this determination will be decided on a case-by-case basis. After all, kids bruise easily and often engage in self-destructive behavior while they are being spanked (I know I did when I was a kid).

As a parent that chooses to use corporal punishment, it is to your benefit to understand that, while you have every right to do so in Texas, there are limits.  The Texas Attorney General website lays out some situations where discipline will likely be considered “abusive:”

  • When striking a child above their waist
  • When using ropes, wires, shoes, sticks, yardsticks, phone cords, and boards during corporal punishment
  • When force causes a “bruise, welt, swelling, or requires medication” it is likely to be deemed abusive

Additionally, the AG describes that the least likely abusive force is spanking with just an open hand (even though most parents that use corporal punishment are taught not to do that as a matter of principle).

If You Choose to Use Spanking or Corporal Punishment to Discipline Your Children, Be Careful.

Bottom line: Yes, parents may spank their kids in Texas. It is legal to use corporal punishment in Texas, but proceed at your own risk of crossing the line to abuse if you leave any type of mark. This rule of thumb will likely allow you to avoid situations like that of Adrian Peterson, a Vikings football player that was indicted in 2014 for injury to a child in Texas for using a branch from a tree to discipline his young son. This is a perfect example to show that while this was a perfectly accepted form of discipline in Texas at one time, it is now unacceptable.

As a parent in Texas this gives you a lot to think about and consider when deciding how to practice your right of discipline. This is just a rough overview of the bounds of reasonable discipline and should you have any questions contact our office. Additionally, if you are a parent and happen to find yourself in a situation where you are being investigated or facing charges for injury to a child, contact our criminal defense team to discuss whether the defense of reasonable discipline fits in your case.

NOTE: The “reasonable discipline” justification also applies to grandparents, guardians, someone working under the court, and someone whom has consent from the parent.

Injury to a Child Defense Attorneys – Fort Worth, Texas

If you are under investigation or have been charged with Injury to a Child for an incident related to the reasonable discipline of your child, contact our attorneys immediately. We will aggressively defend your parental rights in court, in front of a grand jury, or against police investigation. Our firm offers free consultations for all criminal cases. Contact us today at (817) 993-9249.

Self Defense Deadly Force in Texas

The Castle Doctrine: Understanding Self Defense in Texas

By | Self-Defense

Know your Rights and Responsibilities Before Using Deadly Force for Self Defense in Texas

Self Defense Deadly Force in TexasYou may have heard about Texas Stand Your Ground Law or The Castle Doctrine.  These ideas refer to “standing your ground” in your “castle” against intruders by using deadly force to protect yourself.  But do you know when you can use force and what kind of force can be used? Understanding the Texas gun laws is incredibly important so that you know exactly what you can and cannot do when protecting yourself or your home, car, or business.

What exactly is the Castle Doctrine? When Can Deadly Force be used for Self Defense Purposes?

In Texas, Section 9 of the Texas Penal Code provides legal justifications for the use of force in a limited set of circumstances when a person has no duty to retreat. For example, a homeowner in his own home does not have a duty to retreat and may use deadly force to protect himself against an armed intruder. This would be the same for a business owner in his place of business and a truck driver in his own truck.

Texas law provides for a justifiable defense at trial when using deadly force if the person claiming self defense:

  1. Reasonably believed the deadly force was immediately necessary;
  2. Had a legal right to be on the property;
  3. Did not provoke the person against whom deadly force was used; and
  4. Was not engaged in criminal activity at the time the deadly force was used.

What is Considered Self Defense in Texas?

Self Defense will be a justifiable defense so long as the type of force used is reasonable and necessary in the moment to protect against an attacker. A person may use force against another when they reasonably believe it is immediately necessary to protect from another’s “use or attempted use of unlawful force.” A person may use deadly force in self defense under Section 9.31 of Texas Penal Code if he:

  • Knew the intruder unlawfully with force entered into his home, vehicle, or place of employment; or
  • Was being kidnapped; or
  • The intruder was attempting to sexually assault, rob, kidnap, or murder.

What is the Difference Between Deadly Force and Threat of Force?

Threat of force is when a person displays a weapon as a threat, showing that they will use deadly force to cause death or serious bodily injury if necessary. Texas Penal Code §9.04.  Threat of Force is a precursor to the use of Deadly Force.

For example, a landowner, on his property, sees a trespasser running towards him. If the landowner decides to turn in such a way to display his holstered, loaded gun which causes the trespasser to run off the property, Texas law says this is likely a justifiable threat of force.

When is Defense of Another Person Justifiable?

A person is justified in using force or deadly force to protect a third party if he believes intervention is immediately necessary and would be justified in using force or deadly force to protect himself against the unlawful force in the same circumstance.

However, use of force is not justified if in the use of force to protect a third party, the person gets the circumstances wrong and ends up seriously injuring or killing an innocent third party.

For example, a man sees his friend in a fight and intervene by using deadly force to protect his friend and kills the third party. The man did not realize that the third party was actually using force as self defense against his friend. In this situation, the man would not be able to use defense of others as a justification for killing the third party.

Protection of One’s Own Property

Under Texas Penal Code §9.42, a person may use deadly force against another to protect land or property if:

  1. He is the owner of the land;
  2. He reasonably believes using the force is immediately necessary to prevent arson, burglary, or robbery; and
  3. He reasonably believes that the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means.

Know Your Rights and Responsibilities

In conclusion, while Texas law does have a few justifications for use of force and deadly force, the justifications are only proven in a very limited set of circumstances. Further, even if a person has a justification for using force, he may still be arrested and face trial. Additionally, even though an actor may have been justified in using force, he may still face civil litigation and penalties associated with the use of force against another.

Using force for self defense purposes is a serious response and should only be used in truly dangerous and threatening situations. Texas law makes it abundantly clear that those who use force will only be justified in doing so if they meet specific criteria, given the circumstances, and acted as a reasonable person would have under the same or similar circumstances.

 

Fort Worth Gun Crimes Defense Attorney
Rating: ★★★★★ 5 / 5 stars
Rated By Google User
“Absolutely amazing! It was comforting to know I had a Marine veteran defending my case.”

 

Texas DPS Drivers License Surcharges

Texas Drivers License Surcharge | REPEALED September 2019

By | Traffic Offenses

UPDATE: In 2019, the Texas Surcharge Program was repealed by law and all surcharges were forgiven as of September 1, 2019. 

Contact DPS Regarding Your Surcharge Account

For assistance with questions about your Surcharge account, you can contact Texas DPS Municipal Services Bureau (MSB) at:

1-800-688-6882

Check Your DPS Account at www.txsurchargeonline.com

If you are unsure whether you have a pending TX DPS surcharge or if you would like to pay your Texas DPS surcharge, you can do this online at www.txsurchargeonline.com. Surcharges in Texas are frustrating and sometimes confusing. If you need clarification on your TX surcharge, you should contact the Texas Department of Public Safety by phone or on their website at www txsurchargeonline com.

Scholarship Winners BHW 2019

2019 BHW Scholarship Winners | Veteran Law Student & Military Dependent

By | Scholarship

Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC Announces the Recipients of the 2019 Scholarship Awards

Scholarship Winners BHW 2019This was the 4th year for our law firm to offer scholarships. In honor of the sacrifices of our military veterans, we decided to that the scholarships should be connected to military service. The first scholarship is a $500 award for a Military Veteran Law Student and the second scholarship is a $500 award for a Military Dependent undergraduate student. Throughout the year, we received several applications from very deserving students. We appreciate all of the students that took the time to apply for the scholarships and wish them all the best in their studies. For those students that were not selected, we invite you to apply again next year as we plan to continue the scholarship offers as an annual award.

2019 Winner – Military Veteran Law Student Scholarship

The winner of the 2019 Military Veteran Law Student Scholarship is:

CPT ANTHONY TAYLOR, U.S. ARMY

Anthony Taylor is an Army veteran that served as a Pathfinder Platoon Leader in the 82nd Airborne Division’s lite Pathfinder Company and deployed to Afghanistan as a Ranger Platoon Leader in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Captain Taylor will be attending Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law in Chicago this Fall. Congratulations Anthony Taylor. Best wishes as you continue toward your law degree.

2019 Winner – Military Dependent Scholarship

The winner of the 2019 Military Dependent Undergraduate Scholarship is:

TYLER CAIN

Tyler Cain is the son of a U.S. Marine infantry veteran. His father was wounded in combat and is currently 100% disabled. Motivated by his father’s struggles, Tyler hopes to earn a degree in Political Science and work as a lobbyist and diplomat. He is enrolled in Coastal Carolina University. Best wishes Tyler, as you continue in your studies.

More Information About Our Scholarship Opportunities:

For more information about how to apply for these scholarships in future years, please visit the scholarship pages:

Military Veteran Law Student Scholarship

Military Dependent Scholarship

Milton v State Improper Closing Argument 2019

Lions, and Babies, and Appeals! Oh my! | When Demonstrative Evidence Goes Too Far

By | Trial Advocacy

When Does a Closing Argument Go Too Far?

Milton v State Improper Closing Argument 2019What do Atticus Finch, Lt. Daniel Kaffee, and Jake Brigance have in common? Each of these fictional movie attorneys are known for zealously representing their clients by delivering intense cross examinations and galvanizing closing arguments. Finch, defending a wrongly-accused man in a time a place where justice was compromised by racial bias, implored the jury to seek justice by tapping into a higher power, “In the name of God do your duty.” Stuck at the crossroads of respecting formal rank and seeking justice in a military court-martial, Lt. Kaffee made the choice to double down on Col. Jessep during cross examination, poking at the Colonel’s pride. Col. Jessep took Lt. Kaffee’s bait, screaming, “You can’t handle the truth!” Jake Brigance took a more creative approach. Asking jurors to close their eyes, Brigance described a depraved series of events that caused his client to murder two people. The jury agreed with the justification, and acquitted Brigance’s client.

Under the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, an attorney must render competent and diligent representation to their clients, “and with zeal in advocacy upon the client’s behalf.” “1.01 Competent and Diligent Representation,” www.legalethicstexas.com, accessed April 6, 2019. Where is the line drawn for zealous representation in a closing argument? Can demonstrative evidence used in a closing argument go too far? The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas (“CCA”) says it can.

Milton v State (Tex. Crim. App. 2019) | Improper Closing Argument?

In 2015, Damon Milton robbed a drug store by asking a cashier to give him the money from the cash register. Milton never showed a weapon, and he pretended to shop until customers were not around. He always kept his hands out and visible. According to the police report, Milton did not have a weapon. Additionally, there was some circumstantial evidence that Milton had committed the same robbery to the same drug store the day before. At trial, Milton was found guilty of robbery.

During the sentencing phase of the trial, the State entered into evidence and played before the jury a 35-second video of a baby dressed in zebra-striped clothing at a zoo sitting in front of a protective glass enclosure. Behind the glass was a lion, ferociously trying to get to the baby. The State argued that Milton deserved a long sentence because of his criminal background and because of the crime. Additionally, the State entered into evidence Milton’s criminal history which included forgery, attempted unauthorized use of a motorized vehicle, and robbery by threat.

Defense for Milton objected to the video, on the grounds of relevance and prejudice. Moreover, “there [was] no indication that any of his past convictions involved crimes that were particularly brutal or gruesome…[nor]…any indication that…[there were any] crimes against children.” The State responded that the video illustrated that “motive plus opportunity equals behavior.” In other words, that getting away with a light sentence could embolden Milton to commit future crimes; or that if Milton would be locked away in prison, then he would not be able to commit a future crime, as imprisonment “removes the opportunity.”

Further, the State described the video to the jury, “the motive of that lion is never-changing, never changing, it’s innate…with the glass, the scene is funny, without the glass, a tragedy.” The State added, “we know that the [defendant] is such a bad guy…it’s almost laughable, just like that lion…nothing funny when the [defendant] is outside of prison, that’s a tragedy…[he] is never changing his motive.” The jury assessed Milton’s punishment at 50 years. Milton appealed to the court of appeals, arguing that the trial court’s allowing the video was an abuse of its discretion. On appeal, the State argued that the video was an impassioned plea for law enforcement and community protection, saying it was acceptable to argue that the defendant was a “vicious lion trying to eat a baby and the court needed to stop him.” The court of appeals upheld the trial courts holding, though the court noted that the State’s analysis was “tenuous.” Milton appealed to the CCA.

CCA Holds that Closing Arguments Should Not Inflame a Jury with Things Not Before Them

The CCA had to determine whether the demonstrative video shown at the sentencing phase of the trial was out of step. “The purpose of a closing argument is to facilitate the jury in properly analyzing the evidence presented…so that it may arrive at a just and reasonable conclusion based on the evidence alone, and not on any fact not admitted into evidence.” Campbell v. State, 610 S.W.2d 754, 756 (Tex. Crim. App. 1980). “It should not arouse the passion or prejudice of the jury by matters not properly before them.” Id. “Arguments that go beyond summation of the evidence, reasonable deduction from the evidence, answer to arguments made by opposing counsel, or law enforcement please, too often place before the jury unsworn…testimony of the attorney.” Alejandro v. State, 493 S.W.2d 230, 231 (Tex. Crim. App. 1973). Even though jurors are not stupid, they are human, which is why courts prohibit highly prejudicial evidence.

Accordingly, the CCA concluded that the video could be considered unfairly prejudicial “because it encouraged the jury to make its decision upon matters outside of the record by inviting a comparison between [Milton] and hungry lion.” “The State may strike hard blows, but it must not strike foul ones.” Jordan v. State, 646 S.W.2d 946 (Tex. Crim. App. 1983). There are limits to demonstrative aids in closing arguments. The CCA reversed the court of appeals opinion and remanded to the appeals court for a harm analysis.