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Fort Worth Criminal Defense 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.

TSA Airport Gun Charges Texas

What to do if Arrested for Bringing a Gun to the Airport (Accidentally)

By | Weapons Charges

Unlawful Carrying of a Weapon at an Airport in Texas

TSA Airport Gun Charges TexasWe love our guns in Texas. After all, those licensed to carry a handgun can now choose to conceal the handgun or wear it on their hip like in the old west. But carrying a handgun comes with its risks. Many places are designated as “off limits” for handguns. Chief among them is the airport. And everyday, well-meaning folks forget about their trusty handgun when they pack their bags and head to DFW International Airport, only to be reminded by a less-than-friendly TSA agent as they attempt to pass through security. In fact, Texas is the #1 state for airport gun seizures in the country (and DFW International Airport leads the way in Texas).

What Can Happen if I Accidentally Bring a Gun Through Security at DFW Airport?

Generally, if you carry a firearm through the security checkpoint at an airport, you can be detained and arrested. Carrying a firearm, either on your person or in your carry-on luggage, is a violation of Texas Penal Code Sections 46.02 and 46.03. The detention and arrest could take several hours and might cause you to miss your flight as you move through the process. The DFW Airport Police could also confiscate your handgun. If you are arrested for bringing a handgun to the airport, your case will be filed with the Tarrant County District Attorney.

How Serious is an Arrest for Bringing a Firearm to the Airport in Texas?

Depending on how the authorities choose to proceed, you could be charged with 3rd Degree Felony or a Class A Misdemeanor. A 3rd Degree Felony carries a range of punishment from 2-10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000. A Class A Misdemeanor carries a punishment range of 0-365 days in the County Jail and a fine up to $4,000. We handle several airport gun cases every year and in our experience, the Tarrant County DA typically files the case as a Class A misdemeanor, while cases that originate in Dallas Love Field Airport usually see the higher felony charge.

What Should I Do After I am Arrested for an Airport Gun Charge?

After you post bond and are released from custody, you need to hire a lawyer to help defend you on the charges. You should also consider signing up for a local gun safety course so that you can demonstrate that you understand the severity of your mistake and are taking steps to ensure that it does not happen again. Other than that, follow the advice of your attorney. Do not attempt to get your gun back. Your lawyer can help you do that with a court order, if appropriate, once the case is closed.

I Have an LTC (CHL). Are There Any Exceptions for Me?

Yes. In 2015, the Texas legislature added some language to Section 46.03 to provide for LTC holders who accidentally forgot about their weapon. Section 46.03 now provides:

(e-1) It is a defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(5) that the actor:
(1) possessed, at the screening checkpoint for the secured area, a concealed handgun that the actor was licensed to carry under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code;  and
(2) exited the screening checkpoint for the secured area immediately upon completion of the required screening processes and notification that the actor possessed the handgun.
(e-2) A peace officer investigating conduct that may constitute an offense under Subsection (a)(5) and that consists only of an actor’s possession of a concealed handgun that the actor is licensed to carry under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code, may not arrest the actor for the offense unless:
(1) the officer advises the actor of the defense available under Subsection (e-1) and gives the actor an opportunity to exit the screening checkpoint for the secured area;  and
(2) the actor does not immediately exit the checkpoint upon completion of the required screening processes.

So, basically, they are going to give you a chance to leave the secured area as soon as your mistake is realized. They cannot arrest a valid LTC holder unless the person refuses to leave the secured area immediately.

How Can I Lawfully Carry a Firearm on a Flight?

To carry a firearm on a flight, you must place the firearm in your checked baggage and declare it at the time you check your bags. Also, you should check the TSA guidelines before packing to ensure that you follow all of the rules and regulations.

TSA Sent Me a Demand for Money After I was Arrested. What Should I Do?

The law allows for TSA to send a civil demand letter for money damages. TSA officials consider the “severity” of your violation and then send a demand for money within the range that they consider appropriate. They will typically allow for your to pay less than the demanded amount if you pay quickly.

*See this sample TSA Civil Demand Letter.

You may pay the full demand, file a written response, or contact TSA to see if you can work out an arrangement. We have been able to help our clients pay less than what is demanded, but every case is different.

Will I Receive a Conviction on My Record For This?

It depends. Many of our clients that were charged with Unlawfully Carrying a Weapon in the airport have had their cases dismissed. But again, every case is different. The key is to contact an attorney right away so that your rights may be preserved throughout the criminal justice process.  Our team regularly handles airport gun cases arising out of DFW International Airport or Love Field Airport. We have offices in Keller and Fort Worth and offer free consultations.

Radar Detector Illegal Texas

Are Radar Detectors Illegal to Use in Texas?

By | Traffic Offenses

Radar Detector Illegal TexasLets face it, most of us have received a speeding ticket at some point in our lifetime. As a result, radar detectors have become commonplace for drivers that want to take preventative measures to avoid receiving a ticket. Such preventative measures bring up an important question: are radar detectors illegal? Can I get a ticket for using a radar detector?

In Texas, using a radar detector in a passenger vehicle is legal with certain restrictions.
Under federal law, however, using a radar detector in any commercial vehicle that has a weight of 10,000 pounds or more is strictly prohibited. Commercial drivers are treated as professional drivers, and thus, different laws apply to them. 49 C.F.R. § 392.71(a).

Is it Legal to Mount a Radar Detector on My Windshield?

Although radar detectors are legal in Texas, a person may still be ticketed if they have mounted their radar detector on their windshield, side, or rear window, and that placement obstructs or reduces the operator’s clear view. Whether or not the placement obstructs an operator’s view is up to the officer’s discretion. As such, to avoid the hassle all together, it is best not to mount your radar detector on your windshield.

Radar Detectors on Military Bases

According to the Department of Defense instructions, persons are strictly prohibited from using radar or laser detection devices on military bases. Department of Defense, DoD Instruction 6055.04, DOD TRAFFIC SAFETY PROGRAM pg. 12 (2013).

What is the Difference Between a Radar Detector and a Radar Jammer?

Over the years, many devices have been created to help prevent speeders from being ticketed. The most common device is the radar detector, which is designed to locate radar signals out of the air. However, radar detectors have become less effective due to advances in technology and policing. This has generated the need for LIDAR/RADAR jamming devices. Unlike the traditional radar detector, a jamming device transmits a radio frequency signal that blocks or otherwise interferes with the operation of police LIDAR/RADAR by overloading its receiver with false information. Jamming devices can cause significant damage to police equipment. Moreover, such devices not only prevent police from detecting the speed of the vehicle with the device, but also the vehicles in the surrounding area.

Accordingly, in 2011, Texas passed HB 1116 to prohibit a person from using, attempting to use, installing, operating, or attempting to operate a radar interference device in a motor vehicle operated by the person. A person who commits an offense under this section may be charged with a class C misdemeanor. Tex. Transp. Code § 547.616. A Class C misdemeanor is punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.

Takeaways….

While many people believe radar detectors promote unsafe driving, advocates refute this contention by explaining that radar detectors alert drivers to their speed and remind them to drive the speed limit, and thus, safer.

In conclusion, spending money on a radar detector may help you dodge a speeding ticket and possibly even drive safer, but there are other laws that may be implicated when using such devices.

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

Misapplication of Fiduciary Property Texas 32.45

Misapplication of Fiduciary Property in Texas | Texas Penal Code 32.45

By | White Collar

Misapplication of Fiduciary Property—What is it?

Misapplication of Fiduciary Property Texas 32.45Misapplication of fiduciary property is a charge that is aimed at protecting beneficiaries of trusts, estates, receiverships and the like. Pursuant to Section 32.45 of the Texas Penal Code, a person commits the offense of misapplication of fiduciary property by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly misapplying property he holds as a fiduciary in a manner that involves substantial risk of loss to the owner of the property. Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 32.45(b). “Substantial risk of loss” means a real possibility of loss. Casillas v. State, 733 S.W.2d 158, 163¬–64 (Tex. Crim. App. 1986). However, the possibility need not rise to the level of a substantial certainty (which is required for theft)—the risk of loss need only be more likely than not. Id.

Who is a “Fiduciary” Under Texas Law?

The penal code sets out four distinct groups that are considered fiduciaries pursuant to Section 32.45. These include:

  • A trustee, guardian, administrator, executor, conservator, and receiver;
  • An attorney in fact or agent appointed under a durable power of attorney;
  • An officer, manager, employee, or agent carrying on fiduciary functions on behalf of a fiduciary; or,
  • Any other person acting in a fiduciary capacity.

Id. at § 32.45(a)(1).

“Acting in a fiduciary capacity” is not defined in the penal code. However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined that because “fiduciary” has such a common meaning it should be construed according to its plain meaning. Berry v. State, 424 S.W.3d 579 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014).

The plain meaning of fiduciary means, “holding, held, or founded in trust or confidence.” More notably, a person who acts as a fiduciary is one “who has a duty, created by his own undertaking, to act primarily for another person’s benefit in matters connected with such undertaking.” Gonzalez v. State, 954 S.W.2d 98, 103 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1997, no pet.). For example, courts have held that a person acts in a fiduciary capacity “when the business which he transacts, or the money or property which he handles, is not his or for his own benefit, but for the benefit of another person as to whom he stands in a relation implying and necessitating great confidence and trust on the one part and a high degree of good faith on the other part.” Gonzalez v. State, 954 S.W.2d 98, 103 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1997, no writ).

Additionally, a person acting in a fiduciary capacity embraces any fiduciary, including a joint adventurer or partner. Coplin v. State, 585 S.W.2d 734 (Tex. Crim. App. 1979). This does not, however, include everyday business dealings. Berry, 424 S.W.3d at 584. The Court of Criminal appeals assume such transactions are entered into for a mutual benefit and, therefore, neither party is expected to act solely for the benefit of the other. Id.

What does it mean to “Misapply” Property?

The definition of “misapply” is fairly broad under the penal code. Pursuant to Section 32.45, a person who is a fiduciary misapplies property held as a fiduciary if the person deals property contrary to:

  • An agreement under which the fiduciary holds the property; or
  • A law prescribing the custody or disposition of the property.

Evidence that a defendant aided another person in misapplying property is sufficient, pursuant to the law of parties, to convict a defendant of misapplication of fiduciary property—even if the defendant did not personally handle the misapplied funds. Head v. State, 299 S.W.3d 414 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2009, pet. ref’d). Furthermore, a defendant need not receive a benefit in order to misapply property. Talamantez v. State, 790 S.W.2d 33,37 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1990, pet. Ref’d). Nor does it matter if a defendant donated the property to charity. Little v. State, 699 S.W.2d 316, 318 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1985, no pet.).

Therefore, misapplication can occur by an omission or failure to act where a duty to act exists. Coleman v. State, 131 S.W.3d 303, 309-10 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2004, pet. ref’d).

What does it take to Prove up an Agreement?

The government must prove the defendant knew of the agreement for misapplication to occur. Amaya v. State, 733 S.W.2d 168 (Tex. Crim. App. 1986). But, similar to “fiduciary,” Section 32.45 does not define “agreement.” Thus, the Court of Criminal Appeals construes agreement according to its plain meaning. Bynum v. State, 711 S.W.2d 321, 323 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 1986), aff’d, 767 S.W.2d 769 (Tex. Crim. App. 1989). To prove up an agreement, the State must be able to demonstrate a harmonious understanding or an arrangement, between two or more parties, as to a course of action. Id. Additionally, there is nothing in Section 32.45 that requires the agreement to be in writing or proved directly. Id.

Possible Defenses?

An effective defense to a charge of misapplication of fiduciary property is mistake of fact—otherwise negating the culpability required for the commission of the offense. Section 32.45 is designed to punish intentional, knowing or reckless misapplication of property. Thus, if it can be proved that the improper use or application of the property was the result of mere negligence, by mistake of fact, the statute will not apply. Other defense vary depending on the facts of the case.

What are the Penalties?

Texas has broad laws governing the use of property by a fiduciary. The charges can range from a Class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony, based on the amount or value of property that is “misapplied.”

According to the Texas value ladder, an offense under this section is a:

  • Class C misdemeanor if the value of the property misapplied is less than $100;
  • Class B misdemeanor if the value of the property misapplied is $100 or more but less than $750;
  • Class A misdemeanor if the value of the property misapplied is $750 or more but less than $2,500;
  • State Jail Felony if the value of the property misapplied is $2,500 or more but less than $30,000;
  • Felony of the third degree if the value of the property misapplied is $30,000 or more but less than $150,000;
  • Felony of the second degree if the value of the property misapplied is $150,000 or more but less than $300,000; or
  • Felony of the first degree if the value of the property misapplied is $300,000 or more.

Id. at § 32.45(c).

Moreover, there is also an additional enhancement (to the next higher category) if it can be shown that the beneficiary was a person 65 years or older. § 32.45(d).

When Does Misapplication of Fiduciary Property Usually Occur?

This charge can arise in several different contexts. To name a few, misapplication of fiduciary property can occur:

  • When trustees misapply trust property;
  • When the holder of power of attorney makes a gift to herself;
  • When a business partner improperly diverts funds for personal use; or,
  • When an attorney misapplies a client’s funds.

These examples demonstrate that Section 32.45 covers many situations and may result in serious consequences. Thus, if you are under investigation or have been charged with the offense of misapplication of fiduciary property, it is necessary you seek help.

Misapplication of Fiduciary Property Defense Attorneys

Our criminal defense team handles Misapplication of Fiduciary Property cases in Tarrant County, Texas and surrounding areas. If you are under investigation for w financial crime or white collar offense, contact our firm today for a free case evaluation.

Resisting Arrest Unlawful Arrest Texas

May a Person Resist an Unlawful Arrest in Texas?

By | Criminal Defense

Resisting Arrest: How is it defined under Texas law?

Resisting Arrest Unlawful Arrest TexasIn general, resisting arrest occurs when a person attempts to interfere with a peace officer’s duties. Section 38.03 of the Texas Penal Code defines resisting arrest as: a person who intentionally prevents or obstructs a person he knows is a peace officer or a person acting in a peace officer’s presence and at his direction from:

  • Effectuating an arrest;
  • Carrying out a search; or
  • Transporting a person accused of a crime.

Resisting arrest requires the person to have used force against the arrest, but it does not require the officer to be acting lawfully in making the arrest. To be guilty of resisting arrest, the force need not only be directed at or toward the officer but is also met with any force exerted in opposition to, but away from the officer, such as a simple pulling away. Thus, even small uses of force can give rise to a charge of resisting arrest. However, non-threatening statements of disagreement with the officer’s actions usually are not enough to qualify as resisting arrest.

Some examples of resisting arrest include:

  • Preventing a cop from handcuffing you;
  • Struggling against an officer who is trying to arrest you; and
  • Engaging in violent action against the officer, like punching, kicking or inflicting harm with a weapon

Can You Resist an Unlawful Arrest in Texas?

One of the most important cases on this point is Ford v. State, 538 S.W.2d 633 (Tex. Crim. App. 1976).

What Ford provides, in short, is that you may not resist an arrest—whether lawful or unlawful. Historically, American citizens were legally entitled to use reasonable force to resist an unlawful arrest. Several states have now eliminated – either by statute or by judicial decision – the common law right to resist an unlawful arrest. Section 38.03 of the Texas Penal Code eliminated this right. Furthermore, subsection (b) of Section 38.03 specifically states it is no defense to prosecution that the arrest or search was unlawful.

In Ford, the Court held “the elimination of the common law right to resist arrest reflects a growing realization that the use of self-help to prevent an unlawful arrest presents too great a threat to the safety of individuals and society to be sanctioned.” The Court reasoned that the line between an illegal and legal arrest is too fine to be determined in a street confrontation; it is a question to be decided by the courts. Furthermore, the Court has concluded that by limiting the common law right to resist an unlawful arrest, the Legislature has not limited the remedies available to the person arrested, and thus, there is not a violation of the person’s constitutional rights.

Potential Consequences

Regardless of whether a person is guilty of the underlying charge that prompted the attempted apprehension, resisting arrest is a serious charge in Texas (many time more serious than the underlying offense). A person can face a significant fine and jail time.

Typically, resisting arrest, search, or transportation is prosecuted as a Class A Misdemeanor. An individual convicted of a Class A Misdemeanor may be sentenced to up to a year in county jail and a fine of up to $4,000.

However, the charge may be enhanced to a felony of the 3rd degree if you use a deadly weapon, such as a gun or a knife, to resist the arrest or search. An individual convicted of a felony of the 3rd degree may be sentenced to 2-10 years in the Texas Department of Corrections and a fine up to $10,000.

Our advice is to comply with the officer’s demands calmly and politely and let us work out the legality of the arrest later.

Time Requirements for Juvenile Certification Texas

On the Clock: Time Limits to Try a Juvenile as an Adult

By | Juvenile

Time Requirements on the State’s Power to Certify a Juvenile as an Adult

Time Requirements for Juvenile Certification TexasTexas Family Code Section 54.02 gives the juvenile court the power to transfer its exclusive jurisdiction over a juvenile case to a district court. This transfer of jurisdiction allows the State to treat a juvenile as an adult for purposes of prosecution. Section 54.02 actually lays out two different processes for transferring juvenile cases to adult court. The first process is used in cases where the juvenile is under the age of 18 at the time of certification. The second, which is laid out in Section 54.02(j), is for those cases in which a person has turned 18 prior to the filing of the case in juvenile court. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently upheld the time requirements placed on the power of the State to pursue post-18 certifications in Moore v. State (Case Opinion – 2017).

Section 54.02(j)’s Time Limits

Section 54.02(j) allows a juvenile court to transfer its jurisdiction to an appropriate district court for criminal proceedings if the person accused is 18 years of age or older at the time the petition is filed but was a juvenile at the time the offense was committed. During the transfer hearing, the State must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that “for a reason beyond the control of the State, it was not practicable to proceed in juvenile court before the 18th birthday of the person or after due diligence of the State, it was not practicable to proceed in juvenile court before the 18th birthday of the person because the State did not have probable cause to proceed in juvenile court and new evidence has been found since the 18th birthday of the person or the person could not be found.”

This section of the Family Code imposes on the prosecutors a duty to pursue cases in juvenile court whenever possible. In order to retain the power to prosecute cases after a person has aged out of the juvenile system, the State must show that the delay in prosecution was beyond its control. If it is unable to prove this, then the only choice available for a juvenile court in these situations is to dismiss the case.

The Issue in Moore v. State

In Moore, the accused was charged with Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child. He was alleged to have committed the offense when he was 16 years of age. Due to a heavy caseload and an error in one of the police reports, the detective did not send the case to the District Attorney’s Office until after Moore had turned 18. The prosecutor filed a certification petition in the case over a year later when Moore was 19 years old. The juvenile court transferred the case to district court.

Moore pled in adult court and received 5 years’ probation on a deferred adjudication. He then appealed the case claiming that the juvenile court lacked the jurisdiction to transfer the case because the State did not prove that the delay in filing the case was beyond its control. The State first claimed that law enforcement should not be considered “the State” under Section 54.02(j). The State then argued that the court should consider whether the reasons for the delay were unconstitutional. According to this argument, if the reasons for the delay were not in violation of Moore’s constitutional rights, then the State should be allowed to proceed with the certification regardless of who was to blame for the postponement in filing charges.

The Court’s Ruling

After considering the arguments of both sides, the ruling of the Court of Appeals, and the case law presented by the parties, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled on the case. First, the Court held that the term “the State” includes law enforcement and prosecutors collectively. The Court pointed out that the law consistently includes law enforcement in its use of this term.

The Court then dismissed the State’s notion that the requirements of Section 54.02(j) be treated like a claim of speedy trial, due process, or statute of limitations. The Court explained that the reason for the requirements in Section 54.02(j) is to limit the power of the State to prosecute a person as an adult for something that happened when he was a juvenile. In order for an exception to be made to this general rule, the State must prove that it was not at fault for the delay in prosecution.

Conclusion

The Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision in Moore is consistent with the Texas Supreme Court’s rulings in other cases involving juvenile certifications. The courts are clear that juvenile cases should be handled in juvenile court when possible. This means that detectives and prosecutors working juvenile cases must be diligent in giving these cases the proper priority so that an accused juvenile does not age out of the system before his case can be heard by the juvenile court. In any case in which prosecution is delayed until after a person’s 18th birthday, the State will be required to prove that the reason for this lag time was beyond its control. And if the State is unable to meet this requirement, then the courts will prevent further prosecution in these cases.

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. “

Juvenile Probation Tarrant County

An Introduction to Juvenile Probation in Tarrant County

By | Juvenile

Juvenile Probation Tarrant CountyMany people have the perception that the juvenile system is simply a slap on the wrist for kids, regardless of the offense. The reason for this belief is the fact that most kids in the juvenile system get probation. But, probation is not always that simple or easy. This is an introduction to juvenile probation in Tarrant County. This article will cover the reasons behind the tendency towards probation, the length and parameters of probation and what it can include.

The Reasons Behind a Probation Heavy System

According to Section 51.01 of the Texas Family Code, the purposes of the juvenile justice system are to protect the public, promote the concept of punishment for criminal acts, to remove the taint of criminality from children, and to provide treatment, training, and rehabilitation that emphasizes accountability for the parent and child for the child’s conduct. This section goes on to state that a child should be removed from his parents only when it is necessary for the welfare of the child or the interest of the public safety. Section 51.01 forms the foundation for which the entire juvenile justice system is based on.
Because of this mandate in Section 51.01 that children should only be removed when necessary, probation with the child remaining in the home is the primary mode of punishment and rehabilitation used by the Tarrant County Juvenile Services Department. The system is not geared towards ripping a kid away from his family, but is built to address and correct the behavior by working with the child and the family together.

The Length and Parameters of Juvenile Probation

In the adult system, a person is only eligible for probation on their first felony offense. In the juvenile system, however, probation is the preferred outcome on cases due to the Family Code’s preference for keeping children in the care of their parents. Under the provisions of the Family Code, a juvenile is eligible for probation on any offense, up to and including murder. For misdemeanor offenses, probation is the only option available.

The maximum length of probation, regardless of offense, is generally up to a child’s 18th birthday. In circumstances involving the most serious offenses or habitual offenders, the prosecutor may seek a determinate sentence which extends the possible punishment. On determinate sentence cases, probation can last for a maximum of ten years. In Tarrant County, prosecutors generally only seek determinate sentences in the most serious of cases.

What Juvenile Probation Can Include

Juvenile probation in Tarrant County can include a wide variety of conditions and requirements, depending on the case and the unique needs of the child and family. Some of the more common conditions of probation are discussed here.

Downtown Fort Worth Atelier Building

BHW Completes Full Renovation of Fort Worth’s Historic Atelier Building

By | Criminal Defense

Downtown Fort Worth Atelier BuildingBarnett Howard & Williams PLLC recently completed a full renovation of the historic Atelier Building (1905) in downtown Fort Worth. The Atelier Building is one of the oldest buildings in downtown Fort Worth, Texas that stills stands today. Built in 1905, the Atelier Building housed several different businesses over its 112-year history, including architects, banks, and a restaurant at one time. Located on 8th street between Houston and Throckmorton, the Atelier Building is marked by its dual terra-cotta fireplaces and marble facade.

The Atelier Building was last renovated in 1980 when architect Cameron Alread purchased the building. The building housed Mr. Alread’s architect firm for 36 years, until he sold the building to the law firm of Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC. Over the last six months, the law firm completely renovated the building from floor to ceiling. “One of our goals in this renovation was to bring out the history of the building,” said owner Luke Williams. If you take a look inside the building you will see exactly what he means. Plaster walls were removed to expose the original brick on the walls – bricks that have been around longer than most building in downtown. The foyer is graced by an enlarged photograph that was taken outside the building sometime during the 1930’s, back when 8th street was a brick road.

Office manager, Sue Holdridge has noticed a warm reception from the people of downtown. “Folks on the sidewalk continue to stop by and tell us how much they have enjoyed watching the transformation of the building and how much character it brings to this block of downtown.”

Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC moved its practice to Fort Worth in 2013, and maintained an office in Sundance Square until December 2016, when the Atelier Building renovation was complete. The firm gives all the credit for the renovation to Eric Hill at Hill Design & Build in Keller. He was the primary designer and architect for the project.