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Aggravated Assault Archives | Fort Worth Criminal Defense Attorneys and Personal Injury Lawyers

Consent to Fighting Texas

Can Adults Consent To A Fistfight in Texas? Not Exactly.

By | Assault

Put Up Your Dukes! Here’s What Texans Need to Know Before They Decide to Engage in a Fistfight.

Consent to Fighting TexasIt’s no secret that folks don’t always get along. Sometimes, especially down in Texas, arguments can lead to fights. When two adults decide to go to fisticuffs, they can reasonably assume that one (or both) of them are going to get hit. But, are the bruises and black eyes the end of it? Can either of these heroes be charged with a criminal offense for their part in the fight? Maybe. It depends.

Consent as a Defense to a Texas Assault Charge

Section § 22.06 of the Texas Penal Code governs consent as a defense to assaultive conduct. This section allows a party accused of assault or aggravated assault or deadly conduct in violation of sections § 22.01, § 22.02 or § 22.05 of the penal code to assert consent of the victim as an affirmative defense to prosecution so long as serious bodily injury is not inflicted and the assaultive conduct is not a requirement of membership in a criminal street gang. While Section § 22.06 is a defense, it does not grant an actor automatic immunity from prosecution. Ultimately, whether both parties to a fistfight demonstrate consent or the reasonable appearance of consent is a fact-intensive inquiry and is a matter for a jury to decide.

-An Illustration-

In Miller v. State, a father and his adult son engaged in fisticuffs over the usual father-son trivialities. The son admitted in an affidavit to egging his father on, inviting him to “come on, hit me,” lunging at his father in a threatening manner and pushing him. The father hit his adult son, bloodying his face and loosening some teeth. After their fight, the bloodied son was discovered by police offers conducting a routine traffic stop. The father was charged with assault in violation of the Texas Penal Code § 22.01. At trial, the father requested a jury instruction on consent but was denied. He was convicted of assault and appealed. The Court of Appeals, Houston 14th District, reversed the trial court, finding that a jury instruction on consent was appropriate given the facts of the case.[1]

What Constitutes Consent to a Fistfight in Texas?

The consent defense to assaultive conduct applies both when the victim gives effective consent to engage in mutual combat as well as when the actor has a “reasonable belief” of the victim’s consent.[2] When evaluating whether a consent defense might apply, courts look to the circumstantial evidence surrounding the fracas. This evidence is evaluated in the light most favorable to the defendant and must merely support the defense’s assertion of the victim’s consent, it does not necessarily have to be believable. Evaluating the credibility of the alleged consent is a question for the jury.[3]

Though juries must be given instruction on consent if the evidence calls for it, the “true meaning” of a combatant’s words are a variable to be considered. In a decision decided on a technicality the court recognized that words like “go ahead,” “come on,” “slap me,” “do it” were not indicative of consent but were “a backhanded warning of potentially dire consequences to the threatener” in those particular circumstances.[4] The court agreed, however, that this is a question for juries to consider with a consent instruction.

In Miller v. State, the victim son, invited his father to “come on, hit me.” The son later explained to police that he was “all jazzed up” and eager for a fight. The victim then kicked and punched his father before his father punched his son. The appellate court took the provocations of the victim to be a part of the calculus for determining mutuality.[5] It is also notable that no parties called the police, that the police encountered the situation through happenstance and pressed charges on their own authority.

What Constitutes “Serious Bodily Harm” Under Texas Law?

Consent is not a defense to assaultive conduct that results in serious bodily harm. Serious bodily harm is defined as “bodily injury that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes death, serious permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.”[6] Courts have not produced a definitive demarcation line on what types of assaultive conduct constitute serious bodily harm and what fall short. Serious bodily harm is evaluated on a case-by-case basis[7] accounting for the “disfiguring and impairing quality of the bodily injury.”[8] Injuries are evaluated at the time of the infliction, irrespective of subsequent ameliorating treatment.[9]

Courts have found that the loss of teeth can constitute a serious bodily harm when paired with a sore neck and a week-long hospital stay[10] however, so far, courts have only found the loosening of teeth to rise to the level of serious bodily injury when paired with other serious injuries including fractured facial bones.[11] Blows to the head may or may not constitute serious bodily harm depending on whether they lead to concussion. Similarly, memory loss may or may not constitute serious bodily harm depending on whether it is a product of concussion.[12] Ultimately, if the State alleges serious bodily harm, it is a question of fact for the jury to decide.[13]

In Miller v. State, the state did not allege serious bodily harm and the Court found that the loosening of teeth and the temporary loss of consciousness with no accompanying memory loss did not rise to the level of serious bodily harm.

Jury Instructions On Consent Are Mandatory When Supported By Evidence

In a prosecution for assault, aggravated assault, or deadly conduct in violation of sections § 22.01, § 22.02, or § 22.05 of the Texas Penal Code, the judge must give the jury an instruction on consent and, when charged by the prosecution, serious bodily injury, if the accused has raised any evidence supporting the defense.[14]

“An accused has the right to an instruction on any defense raised by the evidence, whether that evidence is weak or strong, unimpeached or contradicted, and regardless of what the trial court thinks about the credibility of the evidence.”[15]

It is the purview of the jury to determine whether or not the accused had a reasonable belief of consent before engaging in combative behavior. Once the issue of consent is submitted to the jury, the court shall charge the jury that reasonable doubt on the issue requires that the defendant be acquitted.[16]

-Conclusion-

Though a fistfight between consenting adults may well fall into the excepted area carved out by Section § 22.06 of the Texas Penal Code, there are many pitfalls that ought to be avoided. When two parties enter into combat it can sometimes be difficult to establish the mutuality of consent. While consent can be implied from the actions of the participating parties including threatening and inviting speech or belligerent physical action, the more explicit the assertion of consent, the better. If there is sufficient doubt about one party’s eagerness to enter into combat, the consent defense may not apply.

Additionally, when engaging in consensual mutual combat, care must be taken by both parties to not traverse the divide between simple assault and serious bodily harm. Because of the nebulous nature of what constitutes serious bodily harm and the unpredictability in how courts interpret the statute, this can be an especially tricky area to navigate. The difference between a loose tooth and a lost tooth may mark the difference between whether § 22.06 applies.

Finally, both the consent of the parties as well as the gravity of the injuries inflicted are questions for a jury to decide. Though § 22.06 should be introduced as an instruction for a jury to consider when supported by evidence, a person accused of assault still may likely have to undertake the time and expense of a criminal prosecution.

 

[1]          Miller v. State, 312 S.W.3d 209 (Tex. App. – Houston [14th District] 2010).

[2]          § 22.06.

[3]          312 S.W.3d at 212.

[4]          Allen v. State, 253 S.W.3d 260, 268 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008).

[5]          312 S.W.3d at 211.

[6]          Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 1.07 (West).

[7]          312 S.W.3d at 213.

[8]          Blea v. State, 483 S.W.3d 29, 34–35 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016).

[9]          Goodman v. State, 710 S.W.2d 169, 170 (Tex.App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1986, no pet.).

[10]        Hatfield v. State, 377 S.W.2d 647, 648 (Tex. Crim. App. 1964).

[11]        Pitts v. State, 742 S.W.2d 420, 421 (Tex. App. – Dallas 1987).

[12]        Powell v. State, 939 S.W.2d 713, 718 (Tex.App.-El Paso 1997, no pet.).

[13]        312 S.W.3d at 213.

[14]        Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 2.03 (West).

[15]        Id. at 212.

[16]        § 2.03.

Self-Defense Jury Charge Texas

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

By | Self-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

Evil Clown Scare Texas

Hold Your Fire…Don’t Shoot the Clowns! Yet.

By | Self-Defense

Evil Clown Scare TexasRecently, a friend asked me if it was legal for individuals to dress as clowns and scare the public. He also wanted to know what would happen if he were frightened by one of these clowns and shot the clown. While not asking the latter in complete seriousness, these questions do bring up potential criminal law issues.

Is it Legal to Dress as a Clown in Public?

There’s no state law that we’re aware of that makes dressing up like a clown in public per se illegal.

The only potential laws that may be applicable to these situations would be individual city ordinances. A search of city codes in a handful of Texas towns around the Metroplex reveals no ordinance specifically prohibiting dressing like a clown in public. The only codes we are able to find related to costumes primarily had to do with a prohibition on costumes which fail to cover private areas in regards to sexually oriented businesses.

While dressing like a clown doesn’t appear to be per se prohibited, there is certainly the risk of breaking other laws while dressed as a clown. In addition, dressing like a clown in public and creating unnecessary alarm or panic could be deemed as disorderly conduct.

Texas Penal Code, Chapter 42 lays out a list of behaviors that could constitute up to a Class B misdemeanor. Class B misdemeanors can carry a penalty of up to 6 months in jail and up to a $2,000 fine. Sec. 42.01 (a)(2) states that a person commits an offense [of disorderly conduct] if he intentionally or knowingly makes an offensive gesture or display in a public place, and the gesture or display tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace. An offense of this nature is a Class C misdemeanor and carries the possibility of up to a $500.00 fine.

Can I use Deadly Force Against the Clown?

Let’s start with the simple answer of “NO”. While individuals may be suffering from coulrophobia (the fear of clowns), this condition does not give you a right to use deadly force – or any force for that matter – against an individual simply because he or she is standing in public dressed as a clown.

The more complex answer of “maybe” would have to do with the use of force for self-defense purposes. Section 9.31 of the Texas Penal Code provides for a justifiable defense at the time of trial for self-defense, so long as the type of force used is reasonable and necessary in the moment to protect against an attacker. Under this law, the actor must reasonably believe that the force is reasonably necessary to protect against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force. Simply observing a clown, with no weapon or threat to use a weapon, provides no grounds to use force – much less deadly force – against that clown.

In addition, the Penal Code does establish that force may be used to protect one’s own property. A person in “lawful possession” of real property or personal property is justified in using force if “the actor reasonably believes the force is reasonably necessary to prevent or terminate the other’s trespass on the land…” However, the use of deadly force to protect one’s own property is limited. “A person is justified in using deadly force against another to protect land or property if (1) he is justified under TPC §9.41; (2) he reasonably believes using the force is immediately necessary to prevent commission of arson, burglary, or robbery; and, (3) the actor reasonably believes that the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means [such as by calling law enforcement]. Tex. Penal Code Section 9.42.

Using force for self-defense purposes is a serious response to dangerous and threatening situations – but certainly not an appropriate response to being “creeped” out.

Bottom Line | Do Not Shoot the Clown (Yet)

Dressing up as a clown and causing fear amongst the public is a stupid (and perhaps even illegal) idea. Our attorneys would advise you strongly against it. You certainly place yourself in the position of having your behavior scrutinized by law enforcement for any potential illegal activity. And, if you’re simply afraid of clowns, do your defense attorney a favor and please do not shoot them.  BUT…If the clown lays a hand on you or chases you through a park, all bets are off. You may use force against the clown to avoid an assault.

Apple Fake gun Toy Gun Emoji

Is It a Crime to Use a Fake Gun or Toy Gun in Texas?

By | Weapons Charges

How Do Toy Guns or Fake Guns Fit Into the Criminal Justice System?

Apple Fake gun Toy Gun EmojiIn the wake of the recent rise in gun violence, Apple made a big announcement last week that the pistol emoji is being replaced with a water gun emoji. It is no secret that 2016 has been a year filled with gun violence from the shootings in Orlando to the police shootings in Dallas. As a result, gun control has become a hot topic.  While Apple has declined to comment on the change, many believe this is a conscious step for gun control advocacy and others believe this change was fueled because of the individuals facing criminal charges for the use of the gun emoji on social media or in text messages. This change poses the questions of whether, in Texas, it is a crime to point a fake gun at someone and whether you can be charged for a deadly weapon offense when you only used a fake gun or toy gun.

Can You Be Charged With A Deadly Weapon Offense For Pointing a Fake Gun or Toy Gun at Someone in Texas?

If you were to point an Airsoft gun out a car window towards a person in another car, would Texas law find that you committed assault or an aggravated assault? It depends. If there is uncontroverted evidence shown at trial that the “gun” used was actually a fake gun or toy gun then you could only be convicted of assault. However, if all that is presented at trial is your testimony that it was an Airsoft gun and the victim’s testimony that he was in fear because he believed it was a real gun, the issue can get more complicated.

Does a Toy Gun Fit Into the Definition of Deadly Weapon?

Under the Texas Penal Code, a defendant may be found guilty of aggravated assault if he “uses or exhibits a deadly weapon” for the purposes of threatening another with imminent bodily injury. TPC §22.01(a)(2) and §22.02(a)(2). The Texas Penal Code’s definition of deadly weapons includes “anything that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.” To determine whether a fake gun or toy gun could possibly be found as a deadly weapon courts look to the broad definition of a “gun” which may include non-lethal devices. Arthur v. State, 11 S.W.3d 386, 389 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, pet. refused). Such non-lethal devices are BB guns, blow guns, Airsoft guns, and water guns, among others. Id. A lot of these toy guns appear realistic or are easily modified to appear realistic which leads to confusion in a criminal case. So much so that in attempt to be proactive, New York’s gun laws require toy guns to be of bright color in order to avoid such confusion.

“A toy gun is not manifestly designed to inflict death or serious bodily injury.”

If uncontroverted evidence is presented that the “gun” used was simply a toy gun there cannot be a deadly weapon finding because “a toy gun is not manifestly designed to inflict death or serious bodily injury” no matter how realistic it appears to the victim and witnesses. Cortez v. State, 732 S.W.2d 713, 715 (Tex. App. 1987) . When it comes to BB guns and pellet guns it becomes more complicated. In Alonzo v. State, a trial for aggravated robbery, where a store manager was placed in fear when defendant brandished a BB gun, the Court found that there could be no deadly weapon finding because no evidence was produced to show that a BB fired from the gun was capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. Alonzo v. State, No. 07-12-00244-CR, 2014 Tex. App. LEXIS 3703, at *10 n.5 (App. Apr. 7, 2014). However, in Murray v. State, another trial for aggravated robbery, where an expert testified that the BB gun used by defendant was not a firearm but could potentially cause serious bodily injury, as warned in its manual, the court found that this evidence is sufficient to support an aggravated robbery conviction. Murray v. State, Nos. 05-13-00070-CR, 05-13-00084-CR, 05-13-00090-CR, 2014 Tex. App. LEXIS 6201, at *59 (App. June 9, 2014).

Ultimately, when it comes to carrying around toy guns, the best practice is to get one that looks as little like a real gun as possible to avoid any confusion. Because, as case law has shown us, if it looks like a deadly weapon, a court might find it to be a deadly weapon.

Aggravated Assault with Deadly Weapon

Can You Assault a Person Even When You Cannot Find Them?

By | Assault

Second Court of Appeals (Fort Worth) holds that Aggravated Assault by Threat does not require personal presence of the victim

Aggravated Assault with Deadly WeaponIn Hernandez v. State (Tex. App.–Fort Worth August 6, 2015), the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, Texas looked that the issue of whether the evidence was sufficient to prove Assault by Threat when appellant brandished a gun to a crowd while looking for the victim.

FACTS: The appellant, Daniel Hernandez, got into an argument with the victim and exchanged hostile words in the parking lot outside a food stand owned by the victim. Appellant told the victim “you’re going down” before he drove left the area in his vehicle. The appellant ultimately returned to the parking lot armed with a gun.

The victim, who had learned that appellant was back and was armed, hid inside of a building behind the food stand. The victim watched from the window as the defendant waved the gun to the crowd that had gathered in the parking lot. The defendant specifically encountered one individual in the crowd, a friend of the victim, and pointed the gun at him. The defendant then left. Approximately ten minutes later, someone shot up the victim’s pickup truck, which was parked outside a nearby home.

Hernandez was convicted by a jury in the 367th District Court in Denton County and was sentenced to 63 years confinement. He appealed his conviction, arguing that the evidence was legally insufficient to sustain a guilty verdict when the alleged victim was not present during the aggravated assault.

A majority of the 2nd Court of Appeals found the evidence legally sufficient to support the conviction for aggravated assault (by threat) with a deadly weapon. The Court concluded that the evidence showed that “Appellant was hunting [the victim] with a gun and was verbally threatening to take him down” near the food stand, “that is, in the location Appellant expected to find him.” The Court reasoned that “it did not matter that the defendant could not find the victim at the location; his actions still rendered him liable for an assault by threat with a firearm. Appellant’s inability to find [the victim] in the crowd did not change Appellant’s conduct.”

Justice Dauphinot dissented. She reasoned that there was no evidence that the defendant “knew that Complainant was watching him” from the building. In her view, the evidence must have established that the defendant specifically knew the victim was present in order to find he intentionally or knowingly placed the victim in fear of imminent bodily injury.

Contact our Fort Worth Aggravated Assault Defense Attorneys at (817) 993-9249

The criminal defense lawyers at Barnett Howard & Williams handle aggravated assault cases including cases involving deadly weapons in Fort Worth, Tarrant County, and Denton County. Contact us today for a free consultation of your criminal case.

CCA Holds Reckless Agg Assault is LIO of Intentional or Knowing Agg Assault

By | Assault

In Hicks v. State, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously reversed the 14th District Court of Appeals (Houston) and held that reckless aggravated assault is a lesser included offense of intentional or knowing agg assault.

Appellant was charged with intentional or knowing aggravated assault after he and Angelo Jackson got into a fight over borrowed shoes that ended with Angelo being shot in the leg. The trial judge instructed the jury on intentional or knowing aggravated assault, as charged in the indictment, and he also gave a separate instruction for reckless aggravated assault. The jury convicted appellant of reckless aggravated assault. The court of appeals held that the trial judge erred in giving any instruction on reckless aggravated assault because (1) the original indictment did not charge a reckless state of mind, and (2) reckless aggravated assault is not a lesser-included offense of intentional aggravated assault.

We granted review to resolve a conflict between the courts of appeals on whether “reckless aggravated assault” is a lesser-included offense of intentional or knowing aggravated assault. Applying the plain language of Article 37.09 and adhering to our opinion in Rocha v. State, we conclude that it is. Therefore, the trial judge did not err by instructing the jury on reckless aggravated assault as a lesser-included offense.

Legal Sufficiency of Evidence

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Updates – Sufficiency of Evidence

By | Assault, Theft

Legal Sufficiency of EvidenceThe CCA handed down two opinions today dealing with legal sufficiency of evidence.  Johnson v. State (Tex. Crim. App. 2012) involved a variance between allegations in the charging instrument and the sufficiency of the proof presented at trial.  Wirth v. State (Tex. Crim. App. 2012) involved a general question of legal sufficiency in light of the recent case, Brooks v. State, 922 S.W.2d 126 (Tex. Cr. App. 1996).

In Johnson v. State, Appellant was convicted on various counts of aggravated assault.  The indictment read that appellant did then and there, “intentionally or knowingly cause serious bodily injury to [the victim] by hitting her with his hand or twisting her arm with his hand.” The complaining witness in the case testified that appellant threw her against the wall and that hitting the wall caused her to fall to the floor and break her arm.  Appellant’s criminal defense attorney argued that the variance between pleading and proof rendered the evidence legally insufficient to support the conviction.  The CCA held that ultimately, “the act that caused the injury does not define or help define the allowable unit of prosecution for this type of aggravated assault offense, so variance at issue cannot be material.” The CCA also stated that this type of variance involved immaterial non-statutory allegations and when a variance like this presents itself it will not render the evidence legally insufficient.

I thought this case was interesting because, as a former criminal prosecutor, I used to try and charge the most accurate manner and means possible.  I came across cases like this occasionally where we alleged one way that a defendant had assaulted a victim and then upon further investigation or questioning of the victim, it looked as if there was going to be a variance.  In those cases, I would amend the indictment to reflect the more accurate description of the manner and means.  Another method that is commonly used by prosecutors is to allege a very broad manner and means.  Often, you will see the manner and means in an assault alleged, “by striking with defendant’s hands.” This language covers various types of assaults (slapping, punching, grabbing, squeezing).  But, in looking at the Johnson opinion, it looks like the bottom-line is that if the language in the indictment involves immaterial non-statutory allegations, it will likely not render the evidence legally insufficient if different evidence comes up at trial.

In Wirth v. State, the Appellant was convicted of the offense of Theft of $20,000 or more but less than $100,000, a third degree felony.  The Sixth Court of Appeals (Texarkana) held that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the conviction and rendered a judgment of acquittal. The State filed a petition for discretionary review.  The CCA found that the Sixth Court of Appeals had erred and reversed the Court’s decision, reinstating the Appellant’s conviction.  The CCA recognized that the Sixth Court of Appeals had reviewed the Appellant’s case and found that the evidence was factually insufficient to support the verdict based on Clewis v. State, 922 S.W.2d 126 (Tex. Cr. App. 1996).  As the Court noted, at the time that the Court of Appeals considered the Appellant’s case, the CCA had not issued its opinion in Brooks v. State, 323 S.W.3d 893 (Tex. Cr. App. 2010) which essentially overruled the factual sufficiency analysis (see our previous post on this issue here).  In light of the Brooks decision, the CCA analyzed Appellant’s case based on the legal sufficiency of the evidence and held that there was legally sufficient evidence (even given that the evidence was purely circumstantial and that the defendant was a party to the crime) to support the jury’s prior verdict of guilt. Accordingly, the CCA reversed the judgment of the Sixth Court of Appeals and affirmed the judgment of the trial court.

What is Assault with a Motor Vehicle According to Texas Law?

By | Assault

The Many Ways to Commit Assault with a Motor Vehicle in Texas

Assault with a Vehicle TexasFaced with the question of whether Reckless Driving is a lesser-included offense of Aggravated Assault With a Motor Vehicle (alleged as a Deadly Weapon), the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals explained that there are, indeed, many ways in which a vehicle can be used as a deadly weapon apart from the vehicle being driven, to wit:

• Locking the victim in a hot car,
• Slamming the victim’s head again the car frame,
• Rigging the car’s gas tank to explode,
• Placing the car in neutral and allowing it to run into the victim or a building,
• Suffocating the victim in the trunk, or
• Running the car in an enclosed area to cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

The CCA used this creative list to reverse the 5th Court of Appeals (Dallas), which had previously held that the trial court erred by not instructing the jury that it could find appellant guilty of the LIO of Reckless Driving if it believed the State did not prove Aggravated Assault w/a Deadly Weapon. The appellant argued at trial and on appeal that the LIO should apply, thereby giving the jury another option.

You can read the full opinion of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Rice v. State here.