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Deadly Weapon Archives | Fort Worth Criminal Defense Attorneys and Personal Injury Lawyers

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

Fire as Deadly Weapon in Arson Case

Is Fire a Deadly Weapon in an Arson Case?

By | Arson, Deadly Weapon

Defendant’s Arson Charge was Enhanced when Fire was Alleged as a “Deadly Weapon.”


Pruett v. State (2nd Court of Appeals – Fort Worth, 2016)

***UPDATE – This case was REVERSED by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2017. See opinion here.

Fire as Deadly Weapon in Arson CaseJeffery Pruett inherited a one-third shared interest in the family home with his two siblings after the death of their elderly parents. The adult siblings had a long history of quarreling over Pruett’s living arrangements, as he moved in and out of the residence prior to the deaths of their parents. Fed up, Pruett moved into a motor home, and was often seen by the neighbors driving around the neighborhood. Meanwhile, Pruett’s siblings listed the home for sale with the intention of dividing the proceeds equally between the three siblings.

On December 19, 2012, a neighbor spotted Pruett parking his motor home in front of the residence. Pruett exited the vehicle, went into the backyard of the residence, and then got back into the vehicle and drove away. Moments later, the neighbor saw smoke coming from the back of the house. The neighbor ran to the backyard, saw flames shooting out of the residence, and called the Fort Worth fire department. Neighbors were successful in using a garden hose to extinguish a large portion of the fire. When the fire department arrived, they confirmed that there was no one inside the home and put out the remaining flames. After an investigation, the arson investigator concluded that the fire had been intentionally started with a flammable ignition source.

Pruett’s Case Goes to Trial

At trial, the fire department’s battalion chief testified that had the flames not been put out, the fire would have consumed the home. Further, the arson investigator testified that the fire was “very dangerous,” putting neighbors, fire fighters, and anyone inside the home in immediate danger of death or serious injury. Considering his use of fire to be a deadly weapon, the trial court convicted Pruett of arson, sentencing him to twenty years imprisonment. Pruett appealed to the Second Court of Appeals, arguing that the court lacked sufficient evidence to support the finding of fire as a deadly weapon. Fire as a deadly weapon carries a heavier penalty in Texas.

What does Texas Law say about fire as deadly weapon?

Fire is not considered a deadly weapon in the Texas Penal Code, however, a Court can find that fire was used as a deadly weapon if the surrounding circumstances meet a three-pronged test. Mims v. State, 335 S.W. 3d 247, 249-50. In order for fire to be deemed a deadly weapon, the evidence must prove

  1. the object meets the definition of a deadly weapon;
  2. the deadly weapon was used…during the transaction on which the felony conviction was based; and
  3. other people were put in actual danger.”

Brister v. State, 449 S.W.3d 490,494 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014).

The Second Court of Appeals Weighs In – The Court must determine whether the fire set by Pruett was capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.

Did the fire meet the statutory definition of a deadly weapon?

Under Texas law, a deadly weapon can be “anything that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.” Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 1.07(a)(17)(West Supp. 2015). To determine whether the object was “capable” of causing death or serious bodily injury, such “capability” must be evaluated based on what actually happened, not conjecture about what might have happened if the facts had been different than they were.” Williams v. State, 946 S.W.2d 432, 435-36 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 1997).

Here, the Court says the neighbor had put out most of the fire with the garden hose by the time the fire department arrived on the scene. Further, the neighbor who called the fire department was not placed in danger. Even though the arson investigator testified that the firefighters were placed in danger, such danger is part of the job. Since there was no one else in the home at the time of the fire, there is no evidence that the firefighters were put in actual danger of death or seriously bodily injury. The Court concludes, “the facts—viewed…in light of what did happen [not what could have happened]—do not support [fire as a deadly weapon] in this case.” The Second Court of Appeals orders the deadly weapons finding to be deleted from Pruett’s judgment.

CASE UPDATE (1/25/17) – CCA Reverses the COA Decision

In reversing the Court of Appeals, the CCA held:

“An arsonist is not the same as an intoxicated driver, and the degree of danger and harm that each offender is capable of causing is materially different. In the case at bar, the deadly nature of the fire is not difficult to appreciate. Fire is inherently dangerous in a way that cars are not and it is capable of inflicting serious bodily harm, especially when it is intentionally started in a residential neighborhood. This fire was dangerous because it was left unattended and because appellant used an accelerant. As a result, the fire endangered not only the lives of the firefighters who responded to the call but also the lives of neighbors who could have been killed or seriously injured if the fire continued to spread. The fire also posed a danger from both the heat effects and the emissions of toxic chemicals. In this case, the State adequately demonstrated that the fire that appellant started was capable of causing death or serious bodily injury…When evidence at trial demonstrates that someone ignites combustible material to intentionally burn down a house in a residential neighborhood, a deadly-weapon finding may appropriately attach to the arson conviction when the fire is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. That is what happened in this case. “

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.

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.

 

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Dangerous Weapon Enhancement

Federal Sentence Enhanced for Presence of Dangerous Weapon Even Though the Defendant Had No Knowledge of the Weapon

By | Sentencing

Should a defendant charged with possession of drugs be punished for a “dangerous weapon” found at the scene of the drug trafficking and owned by a co-conspirator, when he did not know about the gun in the first place?

Dangerous Weapon EnhancementThe Federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals thinks so.  See the Court’s opinion in United States v. Guerrero.

On September 5, 2012, police were investigating a ranch in McAllen, Texas as a possible stash house for drug-trafficking. Officers observed Adrian Rodriguez-Guerrero coming and going from the ranch along with three other men in a caravan. When the officers stopped the caravan, “because the vehicles appeared weighed down,” a dog alerted to the presence of drugs. The police found “boxes of limes with bundles of marijuana concealed among the limes.” The defendants subsequently consented to a search of the McAllen ranch. (I’m always left wondering why people, especially those in possession of drugs, consent to a search.) “There the [police] found…clothing…a loaded shotgun and 125 shotgun shells…plastic cellophane, limes, packing tape…lime boxes, latex gloves, a large scale, and several bundles of marijuana.” In a written statement accepting responsibility, Rodriguez-Guerrero said he was hired to do landscaping at the residence, but was asked to “load the marijuana into a truck at the [ranch]…acknowledg[ing] the [ranch] as a stash house [for drugs].”

Conspiracy to Possess and Distribute Marijuana Enhanced for Possession of a Dangerous Weapon

At trial, he pled guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, receiving a “guidelines-range sentence of 104 months” imprisonment and four years of supervised release. His sentence included a two-level enhancement for possession of a dangerous weapon—the shotgun found at the McAllen ranch. The district court noted, “[the Court] is not finding Rodriguez-Guerrero possessed the shotgun; rather, it was reasonably foreseeable…that there would be a weapon involved in…the… drug trafficking crime.” The district court added, “the shotgun was a tool of the trade and it [is] reasonably foreseeable to [Rodriguez-Guerrero] that there would have been a weapon, especially [to] a person with the experience that he has in drug trafficking.” Rodriguez-Guerrero appeals to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, stating that there was no evidence to support a finding that either he or a co-conspirator possessed the shotgun—possession which lengthened his prison sentence.

U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines Application When a Dangerous Weapon is a “Tool of the Trade”

The United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual provides a two-level sentencing enhancement if “a dangerous weapon was present, unless it is clearly improbable that the weapon is connected with the offense.” U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(1), cmt. n.11(A). “The government must prove weapon possession by a preponderance of the evidence…[and can do so] by showing a temporal and spatial relationship of the weapon, the drug trafficking activity, and the defendant.” United States v. Zapata-Lara, 615 F.3d 388-90.

Here, the Fifth Circuit Court reasons, the McAllen ranch was a stash house for drug-trafficking, used to “package and transport marijuana.” The ranch was a warehouse to store and move drugs, not a residence “in which drugs were also stored.” Next, several bundles of marijuana were found in the ranch’s master bathroom, making it “plausible [the Court reasons] to find that either Rodriguez-Guerrero or another co-defendant accessed the master bedroom, where the shotgun was found.” Further, the rounds of ammunition suggest that the gun was connected with the drug trade. Lastly, the gun and rounds of ammunition were found on the same day that police observed Rodriguez-Guerrero and the co-defendants at the ranch.

The Court concludes that the “facts identified by the [district] court plausibly establish a temporal and spatial relationship between the weapon, the drug-trafficking activity, and Rodriguez-Guerrero.” The purpose of the sentencing enhancement is to punish because of increased danger and violence when drug traffickers possess weapons. U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(1), cmt. n.11(A). “The mere fact that a weapon cannot be attributable to any specific drug trafficker does not decrease the danger of violence.” Even though Rodgriguez-Guerrero may not have possessed shotgun, or that he may not have known about the shotgun is irrelevant. The Court states, “there was [sufficient] evidence to support that the weapon must have been possessed by one of the conspirators in furtherance of the conspiracy.”

In short, the Court says that establishing the “temporal and spatial” relationship is enough for possession in these types of drug trafficking cases; and, possession of a weapon could lead to enhanced, or increased prison sentences in federal courts.

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.

Deadly Weapon Law in Texas

When is a Deadly Weapon Not a “Deadly Weapon?”

By | Deadly Weapon

The Frustrating “Deadly Weapon” Issue

Deadly Weapon Law in TexasThe “deadly weapon finding” under Texas criminal law is an issue that leads most criminal defense lawyers to bang their collective heads against the courthouse wall. It seems that just about anything and everything is, has been, or will soon be, designated as a “deadly weapon” when the prosecution deems it helpful to securing a conviction and lengthier sentence. Here are some deadly weapons that we’ve seen recently: car, fist, baseball bat, walking stick, STDs, fire, fake gun, etc.

In the case below, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals finally ratcheted back the power of the State to enhance a case with a deadly weapon finding.  Kudos to the 1st Court of Appeals (Houston) for stepping out on this issue.

Question Presented:  To support a deadly-weapon finding, must the “exhibition” of the deadly weapon facilitate, in some manner, the felony offense? Or is it sufficient that the exhibition of the deadly weapon occurs simultaneously with the felony but is unrelated to its commission?

In Plummer v. State, the Houston Court of Appeals, First Judicial District, held that there “must be some facilitation purpose between the weapon and the associated offense to support a deadly-weapon finding.”

Fort Worth Weapon Charges Defense Lawyers

5th Circuit Opens the Barn Door on 4th Amendment Searches

By | Theft

Fort Worth Weapon Charges Defense LawyersBelow is a case update from the 5th Circuit (Federal)

U.S. v. Cooke, 5th Circuit, March 13, 2012

While appellant was in jail, federal agents approached him and asked for consent to search his house.  He refused.  A week later, while he was still in jail, federal agents went to his house to conduct a knock-and-talk interview.  Appellant’s house was a windowless structure that had two large sliding exterior barn doors.  Behind the barn doors was a large area with a dirt floor and a paved sidewalk path that led to a stoop and another set of doors.  Behind these interior doors were the living quarters where appellant, his wife and his mother lived.  When the agents approached the house, they noticed that one of the exterior barn doors was damaged, allowing them access to walk directly up to the interior doors.  Believing that knocking on the barn door would be futile, the agents walked through the open barn door and knocked on the interior set of doors.  Appellant’s mother answered the door and granted the agents consent to enter the house.  Once inside the house, the agents saw a shotgun shell and gun safe in plain view.  Based on these observations, the agents obtained a search warrant and found illegal firearms, ammunition and a bulletproof vest in appellant’s house.

Appellant argued that the agents unlawfully entered the curtilage of his house when they crossed the threshold of the barn door without a warrant or consent.  The court held that the area inside the barn doors, but outside the interior doors was not part of the curtilage, so the agents did not violate appellant’s Fourth Amendment rights by entering the area without consent or a warrant in order to knock on the interior doors.  First, the area had a dirt floor and a paved sidewalk that led to the interior doors.  Second, the contents of the area included non-operating washing machines and dryers, ladders, a grill and other items indicating that the space was used for storage.  Finally, the barn door was open wide enough such that the items stored there were exposed to the elements, the public could see into the area from the street, and anyone would reasonably think that they would have to enter and knock on the interior doors when visiting.

Appellant also argued that under Georgia v. Randolph the warrantless search was invalid because his mother’s consent to the agents’ entry into the house was trumped by his previous refusal to consent.  The court disagreed, stating that Randolph only applied to co-tenants who were physically present and immediately objected to the other co-tenant’s consent.  Here, appellant was not a present and objecting co tenant, but rather was miles away from his home and in jail when he objected to the search.

The Seventh and Eighth Circuits agree and allow searches under similar circumstances; however, the Ninth Circuit does not.

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.