Domestic Violence Archives | Fort Worth Criminal Defense, Personal Injury, and Family Law

Christmastime Arrests Texas

Top 5 Reasons for Arrests During the Christmas Holiday Season

By | Criminal Defense

Christmastime Arrests TexasWhen you think about the Christmas season, you probably think about family time, presents, good food, and celebration. We think about those things too, but as criminal defense attorneys, we also think about the reasons that some of our clients get arrested during the holiday season. For this article, we took a look at the last 8 years of holiday season arrests (for clients that we represented) and compiled an (anecdotal) list of the top 5 reasons that folks get arrested during the Christmas/New Year’s season. Our goal is that this list will serve as a warning, so that your holiday season can be filled with the good stuff, rather than jail, bail, and calls to our office. Here goes:

5. Shoplifting

Many retailers slash their prices and offer steep discounts in the weeks leading up to Christmas and even bigger discounts after Christmas, but we have yet to see any retailer offer the “five finger discount” for their merchandise. Regardless, we see plenty of shoplifting cases during the Christmas season, making it our #5 reasons that people get arrested during Christmas. Depending on the regular price value of the item (not the discounted price), shoplifting theft charges can range from misdemeanors to felonies. Learn more about Theft law in Texas here.

4. Package Theft

In a similar vein to shoplifting, our #4 reason for holiday arrests is package theft. Many shoppers choose the convenience of online shopping and have their Christmas purchases delivered right to their front door. Some people see this as an easy target, following behind UPS or FedEx trucks to steal those would-be Christmas gifts from the front porch. However, with the increase in doorbell cameras, it is getting easier to catch the porch pirates in the act. Further, some law enforcement agencies have begun using dummy packages to bait thieves into getting caught. Package theft can range from a misdemeanor to a felony depending on what unknown treasure lay inside the brown box.

3. Air Travleing Trouble (Guns, Drugs, and Intoxication)

Going to visit grandma can require air travel for many families. This means that thousands more people than usual flood through DFW Airport between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. It matters not from where these travelers hail. From Maryland to Oregon to France, if a person is arrested at DFW Airport, their case will be filed in Tarrant County, Texas and they will have to travel back to DFW to attend court. During the holidays, we see a surge in airport arrests when people bring items into the airport that are not allowed or when folks over indulge during a layover. Specifically, we see the following airport arrests:

Even if the state from which a traveler is coming has legalized marijuana and the state to which they are traveling has legalized marijuana, if they are caught possessing marijuana in the airport, they will be arrested and charged. The combination of airport gun arrests, airport drug arrests, and airport public intox arrests make these types of cases our #3 reason for holiday arrests.

2. Assault Family Violence

In the movie Christmas Vacation, Clark Griswold showed an enormous amount of restraint when his extended family pushed him to the limit (especially Cousin Eddie), but not everyone is blessed with such a cool head. Christmas time brings added stressors into the family environment that can sometimes lead to verbal or physical altercations between family members, so much so, that these arrests rank at #2 in our book. Depending on the nature of the assault, a domestic violence arrest can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Learn more about Family Violence under Texas law.

1. Driving While Intoxicated

With all of the Christmas and New Year’s parties and the increase in No Refusal Weekends, it is not hard to guess that DWI arrests are #1 on our list. Driving While Intoxicated in Texas can range from a misdemeanor (if it is a first or second offense) to a felony (if there is a child in the car or if the person arrested has been convicted of DWI twice in the past). Our advice is to plan ahead and do not even take your car to a Christmas party when you plan to drink. Catch a ride from a friend or take an Uber or Lyft. That would be a lot cheaper than hiring an attorney and a lot less hassle too. Learn more about Texas DWI law here.

We Hope You Never Need Us, But We’re Here if Your Do.

We wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. As always, we hope you never need us to represent you or one of your loved ones for a criminal offense. This is even more true during the Christmas season. Hopefully this list will help you avoid trouble that looms during the holiday season. If you do happen to need us, we are only a phone call away at (817) 993-9249.

EPO Drop Protective Order Texas

Lifting an Emergency Protective Order Issued After a Domestic Violence Arrest

By | Domestic Violence

How To Lift an Emergency Protective Order (EPO) Associated with a Texas Domestic Violence Case?

EPO Drop Protective Order Texas

If you were arrested for Assault (Family Violence), chances are that you also received an Emergency Protective Order prohibiting you from going within 500 yards (or similar distance) from the “victim’s” home or workplace, along with other conditions for a period of 31, 61, or 91 days depending on the nature of the alleged assault. Protective Orders can cause big problems, especially when the two parties live together in the same house and share childcare and other family responsibilities.

Can I Lift The Emergency Protective Order So That I Can Go Home?

Yes, you can (in most cases). We are asked this question on a daily basis. A spouse that was arrested for Domestic Violence has been forced to leave the family home because of the EPO. EPOs, however, do not relieve people of their daily responsibilities to take care of children, go to work, or provide for their families. An EPO can certainly throw a wrench into a family dynamic.

We help families modify protective orders to allow a defendant to return home. We do not typically request that the entire EPO be lifted completely, only amended.

Amending an EPO is Not the Same Thing as Lifting an EPO.

So what’s the big difference in lifting an EPO versus amending an EPO. Most judges will not agree to completely lift an EPO, because, as they see it, there was likely a good reason for the imposition of the EPO in the first place. Additionally, in almost every scenario, the District Attorney’s office will oppose lifting the EPO. However, many judges will agree to amend or modify an EPO and change some of the conditions. Usually, if the victim requests it, a judge will amend the protective order to allow the defendant to return home or resume contact with the complainant and the family. However, the remaining conditions, usually involving not committing family violence or threatening the victim, remain in place for the duration of the protective order.

What are the Steps to Amending a Protective Order in Fort Worth?

First, it is important to know that all jurisdictions handle protective orders differently. For instance, the Fort Worth Municipal Court handles protective orders differently from Tarrant County Criminal Court #5. Some courts prefer to hold a formal hearing and others do not. However, in all cases, we request the following:

  • An Affidavit from the Victim Requesting a Change of the Protective Order: This can be drafted and signed in our office, but the victim must be present and indicate that this is what he/she wants. In our experience, if the complaining witness does not want the EPO changed, then the judge is not going to change it.
  • A Motion to Modify the Protective Order: We draft and file the motion with the court having jurisdiction over the EPO. Texas law requires that we allege 3 things in our motion and that the judge find those 3 things to be true before he/she can modify the EPO:
    • (1) The current EPO is unworkable;
    • (2) Modification of the EPO will not place the victim in a greater risk of harm; and
    • (3) Modification of the EPO will not result in harm to any person protected under the order.
  • An Affidavit of Non-Prosecution: This is not a required document, but we allow victims to sign an ANP in our office if they request it. They may end up having to sign another ANP with the prosecutor, but we like to give them the opportunity.
  • Formal or Informal Hearing with the Presiding Judge: Some courts will require an actual hearing with witnesses before deciding whether to modify an EPO. Other courts simply prefer the verified documentation and an informal meeting with the state and the defense.
  • Filing the Amended Order with the Arresting Agency and Sheriff’s Office: If the judge agrees to amend the protective order, we send a copy of the signed order to the defendant, the complainant, the arresting police agency, and the local sheriff’s office. We also advise our clients to keep a copy of the order near the front door in case a nosy neighbor decides to call the police believing that the EPO is being violated.

I Have an Emergency Protective Order. How Do I Get Started in Amending the Order?

If you have an EPO that was issued against you in response to an allegation of Assault (Family Violence), give us a call today to see if we can assist you in getting the order amended so that you can return home to your family. Every case is different, so we want to speak with you and learn more about your situation. This article will not apply to every case, so call us today at (817) 993-9249. We offer Free Consultations in every case with no obligation.

Filing False Police Report Texas

What Can Happen if I File a False Police Report in Texas?

By | Domestic Violence

If You Lie or Exaggerate in a Police Report or File a False Report, You Could be Charged with a Class B Misdemeanor

Filing False Police Report TexasAs Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys, we are often asked by witnesses and victims what might happen if it comes to light that the story they told the police was not exactly true. We often see this in Domestic Violence cases, when a victim decides that the statement he or she gave on the night of the incident was perhaps embellished a little during a fit of anger. Witnesses later become fearful when they realize they might have to take the witness stand and give a different (truthful) account of the event. They worry that they might be charged with a crime themselves for filing a false police report.

Filing a False Police Report in Texas | Texas Penal Code Section 37.08

Section 37.08 of the Texas Penal Code provides:

(a) A person commits an offense if, with intent to deceive, he knowingly makes a false statement that is material to a criminal investigation and makes the statement to:
(1) a peace officer or federal special investigator conducting the investigation; or
(2) any employee of a law enforcement agency that is authorized by the agency to conduct the investigation and that the actor knows is conducting the investigation.

Filing a false report under Section 37.08 is a Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine up to $2,000.

*Filing a false report about a missing child or missing person is a Class C offense, punishable by fine only.

Charges for Filing a False Report Do Not Happen Very Often in Texas

In our line of work, we see false reports on a daily basis. Be they embellished statements, outright lies, or  statements that simply omit important details, false reports happen all the time. In over 10 years, we have yet to see a case filed on a victim or witness for filing a false report or giving a false statement. While we’re sure it has happened, it doesn’t happen very often in our experience.  Perhaps it is because the state does not want to chill victims from reporting or because no one knows which story was actually true.  Either way, it is unlikely that a victim or witness who changes their story is going to be charged with an offense. Regardless, we always tell witnesses to simply TELL THE TRUTH.  If you tell the truth, even if the truth has changed since the first time you told the story, you’ll probably be in good shape.

*Note: this post does not discuss the offense of Perjury, which is a separate offense involving swearing to a false statement. See Texas Penal Code Section 37.02.

Confrontation Clause Violation When Accuser Does Not Appear at Trial

By | Confrontation Clause

Tarrant County Trial Court Admits Testimony in Violation of the Confrontation Clause

The Second Court of Appeals recently released a memorandum opinion, which reversed a defendant’s conviction due to a confrontation clause violation. The issue was whether the trial court (Criminal District Court Number 1, Tarrant County) erred in allowing an officer to testify about certain statements the alleged victim made regarding a prior assault allegation.

McDowell v. State—2nd Court of Appeals (2018)

The Facts—Defendant Was Convicted for Felony Domestic Violence

On August 21, 2016, officers were alerted to a domestic disturbance in progress. When officers arrived at the scene they made contact with the victim and the victim’s friend who had reported the disturbance. While talking with the two females, officers noticed multiple bruises on the victim and learned that the suspect (i.e. Defendant), who had allegedly assaulted the victim, was still inside the home. Officers subsequently entered the residence and arrested Defendant.

At trial, dash-cam video showing the accusations made by the two females was admitted. In addition, one of the officers testified to additional statements made by the victim suggesting that the defendant had a history of violence. These additional statements, however, were not included in the dash cam video. Defendant objected to these statements under Crawford because the victim did not appear at trial. Nonetheless, the trial court allowed the out-of-court statements to be admitted over objection.

In addition to the officer’s testimony regarding the hearsay statements, the jury heard from two other witnesses about the cycle of domestic violence. The State then referenced this testimony in relation to Defendant’s history of domestic violence during closing arguments. As a result, Defendant was convicted. Defendant later appealed his conviction arguing that the trial court erred when it allowed the officer to testify to the victim’s statements in violation of the confrontation clause of the 6th Amendment.

Court of Appeals Reverses and Remands Case—Holding the Trial Court Erred in Admitting the Officer’s Testimony

Generally, the Confrontation Clause bars admission of testimonial statements of a witness who does not appear at trial. In determining whether certain statements were testimonial in nature, “the Court looks to see whether circumstances were present at the time the statements were made that would indicate the existence of an ongoing emergency.” If such circumstances existed, the statements are admissible.

Here, the victim did not appear at trial. As such, the Court of Appeals attempted to analyze whether the victim’s statements were testimonial in nature by determining whether they were made during the ongoing emergency. However, the Court was unable to do so because there was no evidence from the State regarding when these statements were made. The Court concluded that without knowing the timing at which the statements were made, there was no way to determine the existence of an ongoing emergency. The Court explained that once there is an objection to the admission of evidence on confrontation grounds the burden shifts to the State. Here, the State was silent in regard to the confrontation objection. And, without the State providing more evidence, the Court could not conclude that the statements were nontestimonial. Accordingly, the Court held that the trial court erred in admitting the statements.

The Court then conducted a harm analysis to determine whether the error impacted the jury’s verdict, which would require a reversal. In making its determination, the Court noted that the majority of the officer’s testimony was based on the inadmissible statements. These statements portrayed a history of violence rather than just one instance. Further, the other witnesses’ testimony hinged on these inadmissible statements. Thus, because the inadmissible statements were a crucial part in establishing the elements of the offense, the Court could not say beyond a reasonable doubt that the trial court’s error did not contribute to Defendant’s conviction and, therefore, a reversal was required.

Violation Protective Order Texas Wagner

What is “Threatening or Harassing” for a Protective Order Violation?

By | Domestic Violence

Violation Protective Order Texas WagnerFamily violence stories permeate the news, as domestic violence-related cases continue to fill both Texas criminal and family court dockets alike. The Texas Council On Family Violence reports that one in three Texans will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. (Texas Council On Family Violence, accessed 23 April 2018.) In 2016, the National Domestic Violence Hotline received over 17,000 outcries for help. A societal scourge that is found across all racial, socio-economic, financial, educational and religious stratifications, domestic violence continues to wreck families and ruin the lives of victims. What protections exist in Texas for victims? What behaviors rise to the level to trigger a protective order issued by the courts? What happens when a protective order is violated? In Wagner v. State, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently considered whether numerous texts and emails can rise to the level of harassing behavior and violate a protective order.

Read the case here: Wagner v State (Tex. Crim. App 2018)

Domestic Violence Leads to a Protective Order for Victim

One month after separating from her abusive husband, LW was granted an Order of Protection from a district court. Based on the testimony presented, the district court found that not only had family violence occurred, it was likely to occur again in the foreseeable future. In her affidavit to the court, LW described an array of abusive behaviors including yelling and screaming, breaking objects around the house, destroying a car with a hammer, locking LW out of her own house, among other “strange and violent behavior.”

The Protective Order restricted her ex-spouse, Paul-Henri Wagner, from a laundry-list of communications and activities ranging from direct communication by phone to physical presence within 500 feet of LW’s residence. Specifically, Paul-Henri was prohibited from communication made to LW in a “threatening or harassing manner.” One week after the protective order was issued, Paul-Henri and LW sent text messages and email to each other, regarding financial and logistical obligations to their children. Eventually, LW told Paul-Henri to communicate via email only, asking him to “respect her wishes” by not sending her text messages. Shortly thereafter, Paul-Henri began sending emails professing his longing for reconciliation. LW told him to stop. Paul-Henri started sending text messages again—a dozen in fact. Soon the communication became a mix of texts and emails professing his undying love for LW. After a few days of the messages, LW told Paul-Henri to stop sending texts. Paul-Henri barraged LW with emails begging for reconciliation. Paul-Henri even went so far as to drag church members to contact LW for reconciliation.

Based on his incessant communications with LW, Paul-Henri was charged with a Class A misdemeanor Violation of a Protective Order for violating Texas Penal Code Section 25.07(a)(2), which provides (in relevant part:

(a) A person commits an offense if, in violation of a condition of bond set in a family violence case related to the safety of the victim, the person knowingly or intentionally:
(2) communicates:
(A) directly with a protected individual or a member of the family or household in a threatening or harassing manner;

Ultimately, a jury convicted Paul-Henri for violating the protective order, finding that he communicated with LW “in a harassing manner.”

Wagner Appeals the Violation of Protective Order Conviction | Void for Vagueness Argument

On direct appeal, Paul-Henri challenged the constitutionality of the Texas Penal Code, stating that §25.07(a)(2)(A) is overbroad and vague. The court of appeals rejected Paul-Henri’s argument, stating:

(1) that the term “harass” can be defined using a standard dictionary,
(2) that harassment is not protected speech under the First Amendment, and
(3) that the statute is not vague because Paul-Henri either knew or should have known that his repeated communications with LW would eventually pester her.

Paul-Henri then appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which granted his petition for discretionary review to determine the constitutionality of §25.07(a)(2)(A).

When do Communications Become “Harassing” Under the Law? | The Court of Criminal Appeals Weighs In

So when do multiple emails and texts become “harassment” in violation of a protective order language or the Penal Code (or do we even know)? The CCA held that the Penal Code was not unconstitutionally vague on this point and explained that:

“a person communicates in a harassing manner if the…method by which he communicates…would persistently disturb, bother continually, or pester another person…[Such behavior] necessarily requires multiple events of harassing communication…[and would be] troubling [to] someone with frequent…requests or interruptions.”

Here, Paul-Henri repeatedly contacted LW, even after she demanded that he stop. The court reasoned that the average person, with average intelligence, would conclude that his behavior was bothersome, and that he should have stopped. However, Paul-Henri did not stop his efforts to contact his victim. Furthermore, added the CCA, “the First Amendment does not prohibit a court from imposing reasonable restrictions on an abuser’s speech for the protection of his victim.” For those who have protective orders restricting communication, yes, multiple texts and emails may rise to the level of “harassing” behavior in Texas. Those who have been served protective orders need to understand the restrictions placed upon them in their orders and abide accordingly.

Family and intimate partner violence follows escalating patterns of behavior that are predictable and preventable. Understanding the facts about domestic violence is the first step in supporting victims in their safety planning and in holding abusers accountable for their actions.

Lautenberg Amendment Federal Gun Ban

The Lautenberg Amendment Federal Gun Ban on Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Cases

By | Domestic Violence

What is the Lautenberg Amendment?

Lautenberg Amendment Federal Gun BanThe Lautenberg Amendment to the Gun Control Act enacted in the Fall of 1996 provides that those with a conviction for a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence cannot use, possess, or transport a firearm or ammunition.

Senator Frank Lautenberg was the chief sponsor of this amendment. The purpose behind this amendment is to keep firearms out of homes where a domestic violence relationship exists. Lautenberg presented it with the idea that domestic violence and firearms are a deadly combination and enacting this amendment would lessen the likelihood of a victim to die during a domestic violence episode. 142 Cong Rec S 11872. Additionally, since there was already a firearm ban in place for felony convictions, this Amendment combats the devastating loophole that previously allowed persons with misdemeanor convictions of domestic violence to fall through the cracks and be permitted to own firearms. United States v. Hayes, 555 U.S. 415.

When Does the Lautenberg Amendment Apply?

The Lautenberg Amendment will not have any impact until a person has a misdemeanor conviction of domestic violence. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9). That is, a misdemeanor that

“has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.”

18 U.S.C. § 921(33).

A defendant will not be considered convicted unless they were represented by an attorney or “knowingly and intelligently” waived that right and the case was prosecuted at a jury trial or the defendant “knowingly and intelligently” waived that right by a guilty plea or otherwise properly waived that right. Id.

If you have been charged with a qualifying misdemeanor conviction, the amendment has no impact on you until you have received a final conviction. However, if you are subject to a protective order, the Gun Control Act and the State of Texas separately provide that you cannot use, possess, or transfer firearms. 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(8); Tex. Fam. Code § 85.022(b)(6); Tex. Pen. Code § 46.04(c).

In Texas, if you have disposed of your case through deferred adjudication, which is not a final conviction, and you successfully complete the deferred adjudication, the amendment will not impact you since the statute requires a conviction. 18 U.S.C. § 921(33). Additionally, the conviction element of this statute will not be satisfied if the conviction is expunged, set aside, or the defendant has been pardoned. Id.

What Impact Does the Lautenberg Amendment Have on the Military Defendant?

Prior to the Lautenberg Amendment, 18 U.S.C. § 925(a)(1) provided a military and law enforcement exception to the Gun Control Act. The Lautenberg Amendment contains no similar exception.

What this means for the military defendant that gets a conviction is that his service could be compromised since they can no longer use, possess, or transfer a firearm. This conviction can impact their ability to re-enlist, cause a transfer to a military occupational specialty (MOS) that doesn’t require the handling of firearms, and affect the ability to be deployed. Many servicemembers that receive a domestic violence conviction will be processed for administrative separation.

According to the Supreme Court, What Cases are Considered Misdemeanor Convictions of Domestic Violence?

In Voisine v. United States, the Supreme Court clarified that the federal firearm ban under the Lautenberg Amendment applied to every case where the underlying conduct was an act of domestic violence, regardless of whether the state court made an affirmative finding of domestic violence (or family violence in Texas). This means that persons with misdemeanor convictions anywhere from a Class C simple assault* to a Class A assault with or without a domestic violence finding are banned from using, possessing and transferring firearms if their victim was one with whom they had a domestic relationship.

Voisine v. United States dealt with two domestic violence-related cases from Maine where both defendants’ previous convictions were based on reckless conduct, not intentional or knowing conduct. Thus, they argued that the Lautenberg Amendment didn’t apply to them. The Supreme Court ruled that the firearm ban did apply to them for two reasons:

  1. Reckless use of force is use of force the same as if it was intentional or knowing; and
  2. The legislative history and plain language of the statute lead to such a conclusion.

Looking to the statutory definition of an applicable misdemeanor conviction provided above, there is no specific mental state required. The definition provides that the Amendment applies to any misdemeanor under federal, state, or tribal law that was committed by a person through use of physical force against a victim with whom they have a domestic relationship.

*Class C is the same level as a traffic ticket.

Texas Specific Firearm Bans for Domestic Violence Convictions

In Texas, a person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor involving family violence cannot possess or transfer a firearm or ammunition for 5 years after they are released from confinement or after they have completed and been released from community supervision following the conviction. Tex. Pen. Code § 46.04(b).

The Texas Family Code defines family violence as “an act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault.” Tex. Fam. Code § 71.004. Additionally, under Section 22.01 of the Texas Penal Code an assault involving the person’s family or household occurs if the person causes bodily injury to another, threatens a person with “imminent bodily injury,” or causes physical contact with someone that they know or should know would find “offensive or provocative.” From these definitions you can see that a misdemeanor conviction of domestic violence in Texas expands the qualifying convictions beyond those that qualify under the Lautenberg Amendment.

If a person is convicted of a misdemeanor offense of family violence the court must notify them that it is against the law for them to possess or transfer firearms or ammunition. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 42.0131. Additionally, if a defendant decides to enter a plea of guilty or nolo contendere for a misdemeanor involving family violence the court must, before accepting the plea, admonish the defendant with the following:

“If you are convicted of a misdemeanor offense involving violence where you are or were a spouse, intimate partner, parent, or guardian of the victim or are or were involved in another, similar relationship with the victim, it may be unlawful for you to possess or purchase a firearm, including a handgun or long gun, or ammunition, pursuant to federal law under 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)(9) or Section 46.04(b), Texas Penal Code. If you have any questions whether these laws make it illegal for you to possess or purchase a firearm, you should consult an attorney.”

Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Art. 27.14.

Texas law does not require the defendant to surrender firearms or ammunition once the possession is prohibited. Neither does Texas law specifically authorize or require the removal of firearms or ammunition from the scene of a domestic violence incident.

In short, Texas law provides a prohibition of gun possession for five years after release from confinement or probation in more circumstances than under the Lautenberg Amendment. However, if your conviction is also a qualifying conviction under the Lautenberg Amendment then your right to possess a firearm is indefinitely prohibited. If you find yourself in that situation your only option to restore your firearm rights is to request a full pardon and restoration of civil rights in your pardon paperwork.

Are You Currently FacingDomestic Violence Assault Charges in Tarrant County?

Whether you have already been convicted or are currently facing charges of assault it is extremely important to know the heavy consequences that are attached to convictions where the underlying conduct is considered domestic violence. There are many misconceptions out there on whether federal firearm ban applies to a specific assault case. It is important that you know for a fact whether it applies to you so that you don’t risk violating federal law. If you are facing charges for an offense involving family violence under Texas law, contact our criminal defense team and schedule a free consultation to discuss and determine what consequences you are facing and whether the federal and/or Texas firearm ban applies to you.

Voisine Reckless Assault Firearm Ban

“Reckless” Domestic Assault Now Qualifies for Federal Firearm Restrictions

By | Domestic Violence

“Firearms and Domestic Strife are a Potentially Deadly Combination,” says the Supreme Court

Voisine Reckless Assault Firearm BanVoisine v. United States (US Supreme Court, 2016)

Voisine v. United States consolidates two domestic violence-related cases from Maine. In both cases, the petitioner-defendants were previously charged with “reckless” misdemeanor assaults, and both were found later to own guns in violation of a federal statute prohibiting gun ownership by those convicted of domestic violence. The Supreme Court weighed the differences between intentional and knowing domestic assaults versus a reckless “heat of passion” type assault to reach it’s conclusion.

Voisine’s Domestic Violence Case

In 2004, Stephen Voisine was charged with and convicted of a domestic violence assault of his girlfriend, in violation of §207 of the Maine Criminal Code, which penalizes “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury or offensive physical contact to another person.” Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. Tit. 17-A, §207(1)(A). A few years later, Voisine killed a bald eagle—a federal offense. During the investigation of the bald eagle crime, investigators discovered Voisine owned a rifle. Background checks reflected his prior domestic violence conviction, so prosecutors charged him with violating 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9).

Armstrong’s Domestic Violence Case

In 2008, William Armstrong pleaded guilty to a domestic violence assault of his wife, in violation of the Maine Criminal Code. A few years later, law enforcement was investigating a narcotics ring, and discovered six guns and ammunition on Armstrong’s property. Like Voisine, Armstrong was charged with violating 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9), unlawfully possessing firearms.

The Big Issue before the Supreme Court – Is there a difference between “Reckless” domestic violence and “Intentional” domestic violence for 922(g)(9)?

Both Voisine and Armstrong appealed their respective cases to the First Circuit, arguing that they were “not subject to the federal firearm prohibition described in §922(g)(9) because their prior convictions could have been based on reckless, rather than knowing and intentional, conduct.” United States v. Armstrong, 706 F.3d 1, 4 (2013); United States v. Voisine, 495 Fed. Appx. 101, 102 (2013) (per curiam).

After several appeals in Maine, both Voisine and Armstrong filed a petition to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court granted the petition for review, specifically to resolve a circuit split over the issue at hand.

The Supreme Court must determine whether misdemeanor assault convictions for reckless domestic assaults invoke the federal firearms ban. What difference, if any, is there between intentional and knowing assaults versus a reckless assault? Does the type of assault even matter?

What is the current law regarding Federal firearm restrictions after a conviction for a domestic violence incident?

Under Federal law, any person convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” is prohibited from possessing a firearm. 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9). This includes any misdemeanor that involves the “use of physical force.” §921(a)(33)(A).

The Supreme Court Weighs In

In the opinion released Tuesday, the Supreme Court discusses the mens rea (state of mind) for a reckless domestic violence assault, which a is “conscious disregard of a substantial risk that the conduct will cause harm to another.” ALI, Model Penal Code §2.02(2)(c) (1962). Reckless conduct, the Court says, is not an accident. Reckless conduct involves a deliberate decision to endanger others. Reckless conduct involves making a decision—it is a purposeful act.

Here, the Supreme Court holds that yes, misdemeanor assault convictions for reckless domestic assaults do trigger the federal firearms ban, for two main reasons.

I. It’s Common Sense–Plain Language Read of the Statute Renders this Result

Both Voisine and Armstrong took issue with the phrase “use of force”—namely the word “use.” However, “nothing in the word “use” indicated that the federal firearm ban applies exclusively to misdemeanor assaults that are knowingly or intentionally committed,” says the Supreme Court. Further, “dictionaries consistently define the noun “use” to mean the act of employing something.” Webster’s New Int’l. Dictionary 2806 (2d ed. 1954); Random House Dictionary of the English Lang. 2097 (2d ed. 1987); Black’s Law Dictionary 1541 (6th ed. 1990). “On that common understanding, the force used [in an assault] must be volitional.” In sum, a person who “assaults another recklessly uses force, no less than one who carries out that same action knowingly or intentionally.”

II. Congress Intended to Include All Types of Misdemeanor Domestic Assaults in §922(g)(1).

The federal firearm ban for those convicted of misdemeanor domestic assaults was enacted by Congress in the late 90s to “close a dangerous loophole in gun control laws.” United States v. Castleman, 572 U.S. __, __ (2014)(slip op., at 2)(quoting United States v. Hayes, 555 U.S. 415, 426 (2009)). At the time, a law prohibiting those with felony domestic violence convictions was already on the books. §922(g)(1)(1994 ed.).

Unfortunately, says the Court, many domestic violence assaults are prosecuted as misdemeanor crimes or have a statutory penalty that results in misdemeanor convictions, “notwithstanding the harmfulness of their conduct.” Castleman, 572 U.S. at __(slip op. at 2). Using the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution as a hook for the law, Congress added the federal firearm ban for any person “convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence…from possessing any gun or ammunition with a connection to interstate commerce.”

Further, Congress defined “misdemeanor crime” as any misdemeanor under federal, state, or tribal law, committed by a person with a…domestic relationship with the victim that has…physical force.” In sum, the “statutory text and background alike lead us to conclude that a reckless domestic assault qualifies as a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” under federal statutes.

Dissenters in the Crowd

Supreme Court Justices Thomas and Sotomayor disagreed with the majority. Both Justices aver that mere recklessness should not invoke a firearm ban because “recklessness does not necessarily involve the use of physical force.” [The Supreme Court] has routinely defined “use” in a way that makes clear the conduct must be intentional. Bailey v. United States, 516 U.S. 137 (1995). “The use of physical force against a family member refers to intentional acts of violence against a family member.”

Defense of Third Party Defense of Others

Defense of Third Party Not Allowed in Fort Worth Domestic Violence Case

By | Domestic Violence

Defense of Third Party Defense of OthersThis week, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals released Henley v. State. In a 4-3 decision the divided court held that the defendant was not allowed to offer “defense of a third party” as a legal argument in his assault case, because it “was not material to, nor probative of, any fact that was of consequence to the determination of this action.”

Henley v. State (Tex. Crim. App. 2016)

Henley was Charged with Domestic Violence in Tarrant County and Offered a “Defense of Others” Argument at Trial

Mr. Henley was charged with misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury to a family member (domestic violence). Henley was alleged to have pulled his ex-wife out of her car by her hair, punched her in the face several times, and hit her head against the concrete driveway.

At trial, Henley asserted a “defense of others” defense, which is an extension of the traditional self-defense argument. The rationale he provided for this defense was that he did not think his ex-wife was a fit parent because her new husband had sexually and possibly physically assaulted the children. The mother’s new husband was not present during the altercation and did not pose any immediate threat, but Henley tried to argue nonetheless that he was defending his children from being exposed to a physically and sexually abusive environment.

The trial judge did not allow Henley to present the defense of others claim and he was convicted. The 2nd District Court of Appeal (Fort Worth) reversed the trial court, holding that Henley should have been allowed to present his defense. The State appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

What is the Standard to Assert Defense of a Third Party?

To claim defense of a third person, a defendant must reasonably believe his intervention was immediately necessary to protect the third person from the threat of force.

The question in this case was not, “is defense of a third person an effective defense when considered by the jury?” Rather the question was “should the defendant be allowed to bring that defense at all under these facts?”

A Divided CCA Holds that the Trial Judge Did Not Err in Denying Henley the Ability to Raise Defense of a Third Person

The slim majority said no,. Henley should not be able to bring this defense because his aim was not to offer material or probative evidence, but rather to introduce evidence of how bad of a mother. Henley’s ex-wife is, and perhaps try to finagle a jury nullification. The majority saw Henley’s attempted defense as nothing more than an attempt to circumvent the judicial and evidentiary process and try to make an emotional appeal to the jury rather than a factual one.

The dissenting judges (Keller, Hervey, and Newell) argued that the defense should have been allowed because anything thing that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence should be deemed relevant and therefore admissible. Further, the question of whether Henley’s defense claims were reasonable belonged to the jury not the judge. It was the jury who should decide if Henley, in fact, acted reasonably on that day in question.

What are the Implications of this Holding for the Defense of Third Person Claim in Texas?

This case demonstrates that Defense of a Third Person is not as easy as simply claiming it. There must be evidence to show that the defense is reasonable. The evidence must show that the “intervention was immediately necessary to protect the third person from the threat of force” or it could be disallowed by the trial judge. The valid defense of others is still viable; as viable as it ever was. It simply must fit the facts.

Johnny Manziel Grand Jury Domestic Violence

Why is Johnny Football’s Case Going To The Grand Jury?

By | Domestic Violence, Grand Jury

Is it unusual for a misdemeanor case go to a grand jury? Simply put, YES.

Johnny Manziel Grand Jury Domestic ViolenceMost misdemeanor cases in Texas are charged by way of a document called an ”information.” An information does not have to be issued by a grand jury. The information can simply be prepared and reviewed by a District Attorney and then subsequently filed in a court with proper jurisdiction. Felony cases, on the other hand, must be indicted by a grand jury unless a defendant chooses to waive indictment and proceed without one.

What is a Grand Jury?

A grand jury in Texas is a group of 12 lay people qualified under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. These people must be citizens of the county in which the grand jury sits amongst other basic qualifications. Ultimately, the grand jury’s job is to listen to facts presented to them regarding the cases that they review and determine if probable cause exists for the State to continue forward to court. The grand jury does not have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt as to the person’s guilt; they simply need to determine whether it is probable that the person committed the alleged offense based on the facts and testimony presented.

People often mistake a grand jury for a petit jury like they see in movies and television. A grand jury is very different from the juries that hear and decide the final trial. During a grand jury proceeding, there are no arguing defense attorneys or heated opening and closing statements, and there is no judge that physically presides over the process. The grand jury meets together in private room with prosecutors and witnesses. A major distinction of the grand jury is that all grand jury proceedings are secret. The Texas code of criminal procedure clearly states that all grand jury proceedings “shall be secret.” Another basic distinction is that the grand jury is organized and run solely by the district attorney’s office. The grand jury is essentially a tool used by and for the district attorney.

Why is Johnny Manziel’s Misdemeanor Allegation Going Before the Dallas Grand Jury?

So – now that you know what a grand jury is and what they do – what does this mean for Johnny Football? If the filing of an “information” is the normal course of action for misdemeanor cases in Texas, why will Dallas County grand jurors review Johnny Manziel’s case tomorrow? That answer rests solely with the Dallas County District Attorney. We can only speculate as to why this may be.

Manziel’s case is obviously high profile for Dallas. If the Dallas DA’s office were to take the case and simply file it with an information or not reject it without the review of the grand jury, they face scrutiny from both sides of the aisle. If they file the case, Manziel’s supporters would claim that the DA’s office is trying to unfairly make an example of his celebrity status and constant publicized antics. However, if they refuse to file the case, Manziel’s critics and domestic abuse activists might claim that his popularity, money, and status are unfairly allowing him out of another sticky situation.

So, what better way to take the District Attorney’s name off of the ultimate decision than to let the Dallas County community – a.k.a. the grand jury – make it? More than likely this is precisely why, unlike most other misdemeanor cases in Dallas County, the grand jury will review Johnny Manziel’s case.

Does this make Johnny Manziel’s Case a Felony?

No. A grand jury can hear a misdemeanor case just like it can hear a felony case, we just do not see grand juries used for misdemeanor cases very often. If the grand jury votes to issue an indictment, Manziel only faces a misdemeanor charge for Assault (Bodily Injury) to a Family Member.  This offense is a Class A misdmeanor which carries a punishment range of 0-365 days in county jail and a fine up to $4,000.

Ultimately, this may just be the fairest way for the State to proceed and review Johnny Football’s case and precisely the right time to use the grand jury for a misdemeanor case. As a defense attorney, I wish all of my misdemeanor clients got the benefit of a grand jury review, but the volume of cases is just too high for the State to be expected to process all felonies and misdemeanors through a grand jury.

The jury is still out on Johnny Football’s NFL career, but tomorrow the Dallas county grand jury gets to decide if even more juries lie ahead for this once seemingly-invincible Heisman Trophy winner.

Links to more Manziel Grand Jury Articles:

Failure to Protect Injury to a Child

“Failure to Protect” and the Affirmative Defense for Domestic Violence Victims

By | Defenses, Domestic Violence

Failure to Protect Injury to a ChildIn Texas, our “failure to protect” statute is an omission statute—Injury to a Child by Omission—meaning it aims to encourage parents to remove their children from dangerous and violent environments. If a parent “fails to protect” their child from certain known dangers, that parent can be charged with Injury to a Child by Omission, a felony level offense in Texas. The statute also covers injury to an elderly or disabled individual. If the person charged with Injury to a Child by Omission is a domestic violence victim, it is important to be aware of the Affirmative Defense Texas provides.

Texas’ Injury to a Child by Omission Offense | Failure to Protect

Section 22.04 of the Texas Penal Code provides that a person commits an injury to a child if he recklessly by omission, causes to a child: (1) serious bodily injury; (2) serious mental deficiency, impairment, or injury; or (3) bodily injury. Id. § 22.04(a).

An omission is conduct constituting an offense if: (1) the actor has a legal or statutory duty to act; or (2) the actor has assumed care, custody, or control of a child. PENAL § 22.04(b).

The Texas Family Code provides that a parent, guardian, conservator or foster parent of the child has the legal duty of care, control, and protection of the child. The State must prove that the defendant either intended or was aware that serious bodily injury would occur from their omissions. Patterson v. State, 46 S.W.3d 294.

Affirmative Defense to Prosecution for Domestic Violence Victims

In the early 90s, Texas established an affirmative defense for people charged with Injury to a Child by Omission. An affirmative defense is a complete and absolute legal defense. In the Failure to Protect scenario, a person can claim the affirmative defense if the following requirements are met:

  1. there be no evidence that the defendant had any knowledge of a previous injury to the child and that they failed to report the injury;
  2. the defendant “was a victim of family violence…committed by the same person “who is also charged with an offense against the child”; and
  3. the defendant reasonably believed, at the time they failed to act, that any attempt to prevent the person from hurting the child “would have an effect.”

TEX. PENAL CODE ANN. § 22.04(l)(2) (West 2011).

The Reality of Prosecution for Failure to Protect in Texas

Most often, mothers are the ones charged with Failure to Protect in Texas. In 2014, there were 19 women in Texas prisons serving time for Injury to a Child by Omission with sentences starting at ten years, all the way up to 45 years. Seven of these women were domestic violence victims. In fact, a Tarrant County woman who was also a victim to the violence of the man who injured her child is currently serving 40 years. Hopper v. State, 2013 WL 4679166 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth Aug. 29, 2013, pet. ref’d.) Furthermore, the woman serving 45 years was a case out of Dallas County where she was also a victim to the violence of the man who injured her child. It is unknown whether these women asserted the affirmative defense at trial.

As mentioned above, there are serious consequences attached to Injury to a Child by Omission and it is important to recognize all possible defense options. Many people do not know that the affirmative defense regarding domestic violence exists. If you are charged with an Injury to a Child by Omission and are also a victim of the abuser’s violence, this defense might apply to you. Contact our team today to find out what steps can be taken in your case. Regardless of whether this affirmative defense applies in your case, our attorneys will still fight hard to get your case dismissed or mitigated in any way they can.