When is a Defendant Entitled to a Jury Instruction on Self-Defense?

By September 29, 2017Self-Defense

Self-Defense Jury Charge TexasThe Court of Criminal Appeals recently released an opinion regarding when a defendant is entitled to a self-defense charge. The issue facing the Court was whether there was some evidence, from any source, that would support the elements of self-defense and whether self-defense was authorized when a deadly weapon was used in response to verbal provocation.

Gamino v. State, Court of Criminal Appeals (2017)

The Facts—The Trial Court Denied Defendant’s Request for a Self-Defense Instruction and Defendant was Subsequently Convicted.

On August 11, 2013, Cesar Gamino (Defendant) and his girlfriend were leaving downtown Fort Worth as the local bars were closing. While Defendant and his girlfriend were walking back to his truck they passed by a group of men who were heard saying lewd comments. Believing the comments were directed at his girlfriend, Defendant confronted the men. Khan, one of the men, told Defendant they were not talking about his girlfriend. According to Khan, Defendant then said “I got something for you,” went to his truck, retrieved a gun, and pointed it in their direction. Two police officers working nearby heard Defendant’s comment and saw Defendant with the gun. Defendant was subsequently arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Khan was also arrested and charged with public intoxication.

During trial, Defendant testified that the men threatened him and his girlfriend by saying “grab her ass” and that they would “F her if they wanted to,” and that they would “kick [his] ass.” Defendant further testified that one of the men got up and moved towards him in an aggressive manner. This behavior, coupled with the fact that Defendant was disabled, caused him to believe he and his girlfriend were in danger. As a result, Defendant testified that he reached into his truck, grabbed his gun and told the men, “[s]top, leave us alone, get away from us.” Defendant’s girlfriend also testified that he was in fact disabled and that the men had confronted them and threatened her—causing her to fear for her life.

At the end of the trial, the defense asked for a self-defense instruction in the jury charge and the trial court denied the request.

The Court of Appeals Reversed the Trial Court’s Decision—Holding Defendant was Entitled to a Self-Defense Instruction Regardless of the Fact that he was Charged with Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon.

Section 9.31 of the Texas Penal Code governs self-defense. According to Section 9.31, a person is justified in using force against another when and to the degree that person reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect himself against another person’s use or attempted use of unlawful force. Verbal provocation by itself is not enough.

Section 9.32 governs the use of “deadly force” in self-defense cases. In the case at hand, the lower court charged Defendant with using a deadly weapon. However, even if a defendant uses a deadly weapon, deadly force as defined in section 9.32 may not apply if it meets the requirements of Section 9.04.

Under Section 9.04, a threat to cause death or serious bodily injury by the production of a weapon as long as the actor’s purpose is limited to creating an apprehension that he will use deadly force if necessary, does not constitute the use of deadly force.

The Court of Appeals determined that Defendant reasonably believed his use of force was immediately necessary to protect against Khan’s use or attempted use of unlawful force, and Defendant produced his gun for the limited purpose of creating an apprehension. Thus, the Court of Appeals ruled that under Defendant’s version of events, the use of his gun did not constitute the use of deadly force, and Defendant was not disqualified from receiving a self-defense instruction even though he was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon because he met the requirement of Section 9.04.

Accordingly, the trial court erred by not submitting an instruction on self-defense to allow the jury to decide the issue of self-defense.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Affirmed the COA—Holding that the Jury Should Have Been Given the Opportunity to Assess Whether Appellant’s Conduct was Justified as Self-Defense.

The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that the trial court erred in taking away the self-defense issue from the jury. According to Texas case law, it is error for a trial court to deny a self-defense instruction if there is some evidence, from any source, that will corroborate the elements of a self-defense claim—even if the evidence is weak, contradicted or not credible.

The State argued, as well as the dissent, that Defendant was not entitled to a self-defense instruction because he did not admit to threatening the victim with imminent bodily injury. This argument was based on the idea that self-defense is a confession and avoidance justification, and the confession was missing here. The Court however disagreed, inferring a confession.

Here, Defendant testified that he displayed his gun and yelled, “stop,” “get away,” and “leave us alone.” Accordingly, the court held it to be reasonable for the jury to infer that if the men did not stop, Defendant would have used his gun for protection. As such, even though the evidence was contradicted by the State, Defendant believed the display of his gun was immediately necessary to protect himself against the use or attempted use of unlawful force, and that he displayed his weapon for the limited purpose of creating an apprehension that he would use deadly force if necessary.

Using the Court of Appeals’ analysis, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed their judgment holding that the jury should have been given the opportunity to analyze Defendant’s actions as self-defense.

See also the Gamino Dissenting Opinion

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