Domestic Violence Charges – Blog 10:  Asserting a Legal Defense to Assault

By Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

There is no area in Texas criminal law where understanding how defenses work is more important than in assaultive cases.

The goal of today’s blog in my continuing series on defending domestic violence charges is to provide an analytical framework to help understand how defenses such as self defense, consent, necessity or even insanity fit in to and acquit someone in an assault case.

The Jury Charge

In law school they teach us to plan backwards for trial.  We start with what is known as a jury charge.  The jury charge is the 3, 4 or 10 pages of instructions given to the jury when they deliberate by the judge.

The main goal when you assert a defense in a criminal case is to have the judge instruct the jury that if your defense has enough merit – you win.  A defendant does not have to assert a defense – but if they do – it will not be in the jury charge unless there is evidence supporting the defense.

A jury charge in an assault case where defenses have been proffered can read like a tennis match.  If the prosecution has proven x, but because of the defense you believe y then you shall acquit the defendant.  Without the defense in the jury charge it would simply read “if the prosecution has proven x then you shall convict.”

General Defenses vs. Affirmative Defenses

Here’s the super confusing stuff – and I’ll make it as simple as possible.  Almost all defenses in an assault case will be an affirmative defense.

An affirmative defense relates to excused conduct and a general defense relates to an inability to understand one own actions.

Affirmative Defenses

Affirmative defenses require the defense to prove enough facts to the judge so that he/she puts it into the jury charge at the end of the trial.  Those facts usually admit the crime but offer a reason or justification (such as self defense, consent, or necessity).

If defendant is able to raise the affirmative defense, then the judge instructs the jury that the prosecution must DIS-prove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt.  This is a very high burden for the prosecutor to do.

So for a self defense case – the prosecution in addition to having to prove all of the basic elements of assault were proven beyond a reasonable doubt now has an additional set of elements they must disprove:  that it was self defense.

General Defenses

These typically include insanity, mistake of law, mistake of fact, duress and entrapment.  They all essentially go to “did the defendant know what they were doing was wrong” or in some instances was the defendant’s will simply over-powered.

The defense has the burden to prove in these cases by a preponderance of the evidence their defense is true.  The burden doesn’t shift to the prosecution unlike in affirmative defenses.

So Here’s How this Works:


*Jeremy Rosenthal is certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He is recognized as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.


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