Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence Defense in Fort Worth

The World Needs More Andy Taylors

By | Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence Defense in Fort WorthI grew up with Sheriff Andy Taylor. And his trusty sidekick Deputy Barney Fife. If you’ve never seen the Andy Griffith Show, shame on you. It is an American classic about life in the small rural town of Mayberry, North Carolina. I would venture to say I’ve seen every episode (the black & white ones) at least four times each (syndicated reruns of course, because the show originally aired in the ’60s).

One of the things I loved about Sheriff Andy Taylor was his innate sense of right and wrong. While Barney Fife was out there trying to arrest jaywalkers and moonshiners and everyone else who broke a minor municipal code, Andy saw the big picture. Andy may have very well been justified to make arrests or detain citizens for investigation, but he was more concerned with what was right and decent. And when he suspected or observed actual criminal activity he took action.

As criminal defense lawyers in Fort Worth, Texas, we read police reports every single day. In many of the police reports we read, the officer’s actions are more akin to Barney Fife than Andy Taylor. I get the feeling that many officers have the mindset of “arrest everybody and let the DA sort it out.” When officers are called out on a family assault or domestic violence call, somebody is getting arrested. Period. The officers don’t try to deescalate the situation or truly figure out what the couple needs. They generally listen to the parties and arrest the one that has fewer injuries (regardless of which person may have called the police).

We’ve also seen numerous arrests of young people for committing youthful hijinks, such as trespassing on school property. Sheriff Taylor would have taken the kid home and made him tell his parents what he was doing. He wouldn’t arrest the kid. But officers in DFW are making arrests in these scenarios.

Of course, we only see the cases where there are arrests. There may indeed be officers out there that are getting it right. But, we still see too many arrests when something less would have achieved the right result. Don’t get me wrong.  We’re not against law and order. We are champions of justice, and justice does not always mean arrest and prosecution. Perhaps the police academy training should begin with a rerun of The Andy Griffith Show. Personally, I recommend the episode where the cow thief was putting shoes on the cows.

Domestic Violence Defense Lawyers

Unanimous Verdict Not Required for Continuous Family Violence

By | Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence Case Law Update.  Continuous Family Violence.

Domestic Violence Defense LawyersExcept for the military context, you’ve always heard that a jury verdict must be unanimous, right?  Well, not exactly.

Recently, the Sixth Court of Appeals (Texarkana) held that a jury does not have to unanimously agree upon which assaults occurred in order to convict a defendant for Continuous Family Violence, as long as the jury agrees that the defendant committed at least two assaults within the time allotted by statute. Under section 25.11 of the Texas Penal Code, a person who assaults a family member two or more times within twelve months commits Continuous Family Violence. The relevant statutes provides:

(a) A person commits an offense if, during a period that is 12 months or less in duration, the person two or more times engages in conduct that constitutes an offense under Section 22.01(a)(1) against another person or persons whose relationship to or association with the defendant is described by Section 71. 0021(b), 71.003, or 71.005, Family Code.

(b) If the jury is the trier of fact, members of the jury are not required to agree unanimously on the specific conduct in which the defendant engaged that constituted an offense under Section 22.01(a)(1) against the person or persons described by Subsection (a) or the exact date when that conduct occurred. The jury must agree unanimously that the defendant, during a period that is 12 months or less in duration, two or more times engaged in conduct that constituted an offense under Section 22.01(a)(1) against the person or persons described by Subsection (a).

In Hill v. State, the appellant was charged with Continuous Family Violence after the State alleged that the appellant assaulted his girlfriend three times on two different dates within a twelve-month period. The jury returned a guilty verdict, and on appeal, the appellant contended that the trial court erred when it did not instruct the jury that in order to convict, the jury must unanimously agree upon which assaults transpired. Thus, of the possible assaults that may have happened, the appellant argued that some of the jurors cannot find sufficient evidence for one assault and the other jurors find sufficient evidence for another because “it is axiomatic that Texas law requires a unanimous verdict in a felony case.”

Nevertheless, the Court rejected this reasoning. The State advocated following the way of the Continuous Sexual Abuse statute and allow jurors to not unanimously agree on which assaults occurred, so long as the jury agrees beyond a reasonable doubt that at least two assaults did occur within twelve months of each other. Adopting this rationale, the Court ultimately held, “In the circumstances of construing the statute under examination here, it is sufficient to allow a jury to select from a menu of possible bad acts and agree that a defendant committed two of them without the concomitant requirement that the jurors be shown to all concur as to which of the acts did occur.”

As such, as long as a jury unanimously agrees that a defendant assaulted a family member at least twice within twelve months, it does not need to agree upon which assaults actually occurred.  (Note: this same logic applies to continuous sexual abuse cases as well.)

Misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence

U.S. Supreme Court Clarifies Definition of “Domestic Violence” for Lautenberg

By | Domestic Violence

Misdemeanor crimes of domestic violenceIssue presented to the Court: Whether Appellant’s state court assault conviction qualified as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” thereby prohibiting him from possessing a firearm under federal law (18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9)).

United States v. Castleman, 134 S. Ct. 1405 (2014)- In 1996, Congress passed 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9), which criminalizes the possession of firearms by certain individuals.  This section makes it a federal crime for a person convicted in state court of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” to own, possess, or transfer a firearm if the misdemeanor involved the use or attempted use of physical force.  In 2001, James Castleman was convicted in Tennessee of misdemeanor domestic assault for “intentionally or knowingly causing bodily injury to the mother of his child.” In 2008, federal agents learned that Castleman was selling firearms on the black market.  A grand jury indicted Castleman on two counts of possession of a firearm in violation of §922(g)(9) because of his previous “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” conviction.

Castleman moved to dismiss the §922(g)(9) charges, arguing that his Tennessee conviction did not qualify as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” because it did not have the “use of physical force” element under §922(g)(9).  The District Court agreed and dismissed the §922(g)(9) counts, reasoning that Castleman’s misdemeanor domestic assault conviction did not qualify as a crime of domestic violence because ‘physical force’ must entail violent contact and that one can cause bodily injury without violent contact, e.g., by poisoning.  The Sixth Circuit affirmed on different grounds.  It held that the degree of physical force required for a conviction to constitute a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” is the same as the required for a “violent felony” under the Armed Career Criminal Act, §924(e)(2)(B)(i)-violent force- and that Castleman could have been convicted for causing slight injury by nonviolent conduct.

In a 9-0 decision, the United States Supreme Court overturned the lower courts, holding that Castleman’s conviction of misdemeanor domestic assault qualified as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” for purposes of 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9). According to the Court, §922(g)(9)’s “physical force” requirement is satisfied by the degree of force that supports a common-law battery conviction- namely, “offensive touching.” Justice Sotomayor, writing for the majority, explained, “Such acts of violence may be relatively minor, and could include hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, hair pulling, or a squeeze of the arm that causes a bruise.” She went on to say, “an act of this nature is easy to describe as ‘domestic violence’ when the accumulation of such acts over time can subject one intimate partner to the other’s control.” Once the court determined that “physical force” was at least offensive touching, the Court then looked to Castleman’s conviction of ‘intentionally or knowingly causing bodily injury’ to the mother of his child.  Because the knowing or intentional causation of bodily injury necessarily involves the use of physical force, his conviction qualified as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” that fell within the scope of §922(g)(9).

So, what are the implications of U.S. v. Castleman going forward?  Now that the scope of §922(g)(9) has been clarified, federal prosecutors seem to have more legal authority to prosecute prior convicts based on state law convictions.  More specifically, if the defendant has been previously convicted for a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, where the criminal act was any form of offensive touching, the person may be convicted for illegal gun possession under §922(g)(9) if he or she is subsequently caught with a firearm.