Saturday, December 30, 2006

A defendant is entitled to a lesser included offense instruction if (1) proof of the charged offense includes the proof required to establish the lesser included offense and (2) there is some evidence in the record that would permit a jury rationally to find that, if the defendant is guilty, he is guilty of the lesser included offense.

Christian Rafael Trujillo (“Appellant”) was charged with murder. A jury found Appellant guilty of the lesser included offense of manslaughter, and assessed punishment at 17 years in prison. Appellant appealed, claiming the trial court erred in refusing to provide a jury instruction on the lesser included offense of criminally negligent homicide.

An offense is a “lesser included offense” if “it differs from the offense charged only in the respect that a less culpable mental state suffices to establish its commission.” Tex.Code Crim. Proc. Art 37.09(3). A person is criminally negligent when he is aware of but disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint. Tex.Penal Code §6.03(d). Although the proof required to establish murder included the proof required to establish criminally negligent homicide, Appellant did not present evidence to show that he failed to perceive the risk created by his conduct. Ferrel v. State, 55 S.W.3d 586, 589 (Tex.Crim.App. 2001). The Court held that the trial court did not err in failing to give an instruction on criminally negligent homicide.

Christian Rafael Trujillo v. The State of Texas
Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas
On Appeal from the 176th District Court, Harris County
Cause No. 964659

2. Defendant must object to court reporter’s failure to transcribe bench conferences in order to preserve issue for appeal.

Aundri Lewis (Appellant) was found guilty of aggravated assault. The jury assessed punishment at 45 years in prison. Appellant appealed, claiming he was entitled to a new trial because the court reporter failed to transcribe bench conferences.

The official court reporter must, unless excused by agreement of the parties, attend court sessions and make a full record of the proceedings. Tex.R.App.P. 13.1(a). However, appellant who claims error based on a failure to record court proceedings must establish, at a minimum, that a record was requested. Tex.Gov’t.CodeAnn. §52.046. Rule 13.1(a) conflicts with and must yield to §52.046. Polasek v. State, 16 S.W.3d 82, 88-89 (Tex.App. –Houston [1st Dist.] 2000, pet. ref’d). Thus, to preserve error, defendant must object to court reporter’s failure to record proceedings.

The Court held that Appellant failed to timely object to reporter’s failure to record bench conferences; thus Appellant did not preserve the alleged error for appeal.

Aundri Lewis v. The State of Texas
Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas
On Appeal from the 230th District Court of Harris County.
Cause No. 1024294
3. Fire is a thing which, in the manner of its use or intended use, is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury and is, therefore, a “Deadly Weapon” under Texas Penal Code

Seleta Yotarsha Chambers (“Appellant”) pled guilty to recklessly causing serious bodily injury to a child and first degree arson. The jury assessed punishment at 12 years for the first charge and 10 years for the second, probated for 10 years. Appellant appealed, claiming the trial court erroneously included an affirmative deadly weapon finding in each judgment. Appellant’s claim was based on the assertion that fire cannot be considered a “deadly weapon.”

A deadly weapon is a “firearm or anything manifestly designed, made, or adopted for the purpose of inflicting death or serious bodily injury” or “anything that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.” Tex.Penal Code §1.07(17)(A), (B). Although fire is not a physical object in the same sense as a gun or knife, it is not intangible either, but rather manifests itself through the tangible aspects of combustion- namely, light, flame, and heat. Taylor v. State, 735 S.W.2d 930, 948 (Tex.App.-Dallas 1987). The Court concluded that fire is a thing which, in the manner of its use or intended use, is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury and is, therefore, a “Deadly Weapon” under Texas Penal Code.

The Court then determined the Appellant’s manner of using fire, utilizing aeresol cans to purposefully set the couch in her apartment on fire, was capable of causing serious bodily injury and death.

Seleta Yotarsha Chambers v. The State of Texas
Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas
On Appeal from the 405th District Court of Galveston County.
Cause No. 03CR3895

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