Texas Law on Murder and Homicide: 101

November 19, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

jeremy@texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

A person causing the death of another can be prosecuted in a number of different ways with vastly different punishment ranges in Texas – though they are all felonies in one form or another.

Murder and homicide are legally very similar to assault the main difference where the result of defendant’s actions are death instead of injury.

First Year Law School on Murder

In first year law school criminal law they teach to follow the “mens rea” which is latin for mental state when it comes to murder or homicide.  Premeditation (or lack of pre-meditation) is the single biggest factor in how murder is prosecuted.

The general provision for Texas Criminal Homicide is simple enough though the deeper you get into Texas murder law the more complex it becomes.

Tex.Pen.C. 19.01 TYPES OF CRIMINAL HOMICIDE

(a) A person commits criminal homicide if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence causes the death of an individual.

(b) Criminal homicide is murder, capital murder, manslaughter, or criminally negligent homicide.

Murder

Murder is committed where someone knowingly or intentionally causes the death of an individual under Tex.Pen.C. 19.02(b).

Sounds legally simple enough but remember to follow the “mens rea.”  If there is “sudden passion” which resulted in the homicide then it carries a lesser punishment.  Tex.Pen.C. 19.02(c).

Also there is a concept called “felony murder” which means if you are committing a felony (like robbing a bank or engaging in a car chase) and someone dies – it’s murder as well.  Tex.Pen.C. 19.02(b)(3).

Capital Murder

Capital murder is murder plus an aggravating factor.  See Tex.Pen.C 19.03 for a full list but it generally includes:

  • The murder of a public servant such as peace officer or firefighter;
  • Murder as a part of another felony act such as kidnapping, burglary or sexual assault;
  • Murder for hire/ solicitation;
  • Murder of a child.

Capital Murder can either be punished by death in certain instances or by automatic life without parole.

Manslaughter

Manslaughter is committed where the person recklessly causes the death of another.  It can often be vehicular in nature.  It can also often involve intoxication.  Manslaughter is a 2nd degree felony punishable by 2-20 years of prison.

Reckless is where a person “…is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk.”  Tex.Pen.C. 6.03(c).

Criminally Negligent Homicide

Where criminal negligence causes a persons death – this statute can be applicable.  This is known as a “state jail felony” punishable between 180 days and 2 years of prison.

Criminal negligence is basically when a person “…ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur.”  Tex.Pen.C. 6.03(d).  It can often be vehicular in nature too.

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

 

 


What is Entrapment?

November 18, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

Entrapment is a tricky concept. It occurs when law enforcement convinces someone to commit a crime.  It gets confusing because the entrapment must go beyond merely affording someone the opportunity to commit a crime.

The law further says the enticement must be enough to persuade a normal, law abiding citizen with an ordinary resistance to committing a crime.  A good rule of thumb when thinking of entrapment is to see where the original intent of the crime originated – with police or the accused?

Entrapment is a defense to prosecution and Texas Penal Code 8.06 says:

(a) It is a defense to prosecution that the actor engaged in the conduct charged because he was induced to do so by a law enforcement agent using persuasion or other means likely to cause persons to commit the offense. Conduct merely affording a person an opportunity to commit an offense does not constitute entrapment.

(b) In this section “law enforcement agent” includes personnel of the state and local law enforcement agencies as well as of the United States and any person acting in accordance with instructions from such agents.

Example of Situations Which are Entrapment:

  • A recovering addict is getting addiction treatment.  An undercover police officer meets the addict in the lobby of the counselor.  The undercover asks the addict to provide illegal drugs.  The addict refuses citing his attempt at recovery.  After repeated attempts to convince the addict, the addict gives in and attains and delivers drugs to the undercover officer.  See Sherman v. United States, 356 U.S. 369 (1958).
  • Undercover officer makes repeated attempts at having defendant provide access to drug dealers and drugs after defendant was reluctant after 12-year relationship. See Torres v. State, 980 S.W.2d 873 (Tex.App. — San Antonio, 1998).

Example of Common Situations Which Are Not Typically Entrapment

  • Person sells drugs to undercover police officer;
  • Persons who seek out and hire a hitman to kill someone;
  • Public servant who is offered a bribe and accept it.

Other Thoughts on Entrapment

Candidly – there is a strong bias against the entrapment defense by judges and juries.  Entrapment is more of an academic argument for that reason – and typically the most a court can do in a case of entrapment is give the jury an instruction they can acquit an accused on that basis.  So even if the person meets the legal pre-requisites of entrapment a jury still might not buy it.  Most people think the government conduct would have to be so outrageous as to strongly over-shadow the crime committed.

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

 

 

 


The Police Want to Interview Me – Won’t Telling Them “No” Only Upset Them?

November 12, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

www.texasdefensefirm.com

Declining to be interviewed by the police when you’re under investigation will probably upset them.  But who cares?  What are they going to do in retaliation — accuse you of a crime?  Hint: they’re probably already accusing you of one and you’re the last one in on the secret.

Jails and prisons are full of people who gave statements to police when they were under investigation.

Exercising your 5th Amendment right to remain silent is perfectly legal and if your case ever came down to a trial, the jury would never be informed of the fact that you declined an interview based on an attorney’s advice.

Won’t the Police Drop the Case if they Think I’m Innocent? 

Of course that’s possible and I’m sure it happens.  But just as often the officer has already made up his mind and is only building his case against a suspect by bringing them in for an interview.

Police are not judges.  They do not get involved in disputes to hand the party they think should win a ribbon or prize when the investigation is over.  They investigate crime.  They do that by building a case element by element as defined by the Texas Penal Code.  Often the only way they can make their case is through a statement of the accused.

By declining an interview, a suspect may be denying the police the very ability to even go forward with an arrest warrant or possible criminal charges.  So if the police are upset that a suspect didn’t come in — that is obviously outweighed by the benefits of exercising 5th Amendment rights.

Can’t I Convince them I’m Innocent?

Good luck with that.

Most experienced criminal attorneys will tell you police often make-up their mind very early in an investigation.  We’re all raised thinking that people around us have open minds — but any trial lawyer that deals with juries on a regular basis can tell you how hard (or impossible) it can be to change a juror’s mind once they formulate an opinion.  Think about how, when you debate sports, politics or religion with a person who doesn’t seem very committed to any position — yet will simply not be persuaded by anything you have to say.  If anything, they tend to get more engrained in their position when challenged.  Police reason no differently about cases they’ve made up their mind on.

We are all programmed from the time we’re little to respect authority and submit to the wishes of authority figures.  Police (whether they think of it in these terms or not) absolutely use their authority status to manipulate a person into giving them information they’re not legally entitled to have.  And to be clear — this is good police-work as deception is a legitimate law enforcement tactic.

Police know people will try to convince them of their innocence and they use it to their advantage in getting information.

Won’t Things Be Better if I Take Responsibility if I did Make a Mistake?

Maybe yes and maybe no.  At the very least you should consult a lawyer to hear their thoughts about your case.  Your version of taking responsibility may be a heartfelt apology, restitution, and a promise to change your behavior.  The State of Texas’ version could be to send you to prison for the rest of your life depending on the situation.  Having a lawyer in the mix could at least help you have some degree of control in the situation or even broker favorable terms if you made a mistake and feel strongly about cooperating with law enforcement.

In Federal cases, cooperation through your attorney can help substantially lower your exposure to criminal penalties.

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


What does the Term “Forensic” mean?

November 7, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

Forensics are when normal scientific principals are utilized for courtroom purposes – normally in a criminal context.  The applications can be fairly broad as far as scientific (and even some non-scientific) disciplines are concerned.

Some Science is Purely for the Courtroom

A textbook example are certain sciences where the science itself is almost solely geared at solving crime.  An example could be blood spatter.  There might be a different application of the science of blood spatter than criminal law – but if there is I don’t know it.  Bite marks would be another example of a discipline which is virtually entirely for the purposes of criminal cases (forensic odontology) and there has been tons of criticism of bite mark evidence.

Some Science Can Either be Forensic or Not

Other examples require the injection of legal or investigative principals into the science.  Examples there could be forensic pathology, toxicology, or psychology.

Pathology is essentially the study of tissue as it relates to disease.  Forensic pathology takes it one step further often to either determine causes of death or in other cases – causes of bruising for assault cases.

Toxicology is the study of toxins and poisons and their effect on the body.  Forensic toxicology, then, applies to specific legal principals such as the ability to drive, a person’s level of impairment, or perhaps a foreign substance which caused a person to die in a homicide case.

Forensic psychology is a unique practice where a psychologist applies mental health principals and diagnoses and applies them to individuals either to reconstruct someone’s thought process during a potential criminal episode, their overall psychological profile, or for mitigation purposes.

“Forensic” Disciplines We Might Not Think About Much

Other examples of forensics which are disciplines and areas of expertise we don’t associate with medicine can be:

  • forensic computer exams
  • forensic accounting
  • forensic engineering

Instances Where the Term “Forensic” is Potentially Misused

Police and children’s advocacy centers utilize what they call a “Forensic Interview” of a child in sexual or physical abuse cases.  It’s basically an open-ended interview of a child where they are asked to describe physical or sexual abuse in a non-leading fashion.  The psychological or scientific underpinnings or basis for the technique has never been made clear to me – at least not in the courtroom by any of the practitioners.  But it makes the interview seem official or important to the jury – which is why they label it that way, I’m sure.

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

 

 

 

 


How Do I Find Out if I Have A Warrant Out For My Arrest?

October 28, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

Here is the link to search for warrants in Collin County.  Here is the link for warrants in Dallas County.  Tarrant County wants you to contact the individual municipality where the warrant originated.  Denton County also makes you contact them for warrant info.

There is a database for warrants nation-wide, but unfortunately it’s not public.  Checking for warrants can be a pain-staking process if you suspect you have a warrant for your arrest but aren’t sure.  The counties which make you call them to inquire doubtlessly do it in an effort to draw folks who have a warrant into their spider-web.  My guess is it backfires because many people are too scared to call.

The vast, vast majority of arrest warrants are for mundane purposes such as traffic tickets or probation revocations (I love my readers, but I don’t do traffic tickets – so please don’t call me for those!).  Most warrants simply sit there unless or until someone gets pulled over or has some other type of benign law enforcement contact which results in them being run for warrants.

Can Warrants Be Hidden on Purpose?

Yes.  Law enforcement can issue warrants and have them be sealed.  They might do it if there is an on-going investigation of a conspiracy they don’t want to spoil – and then they arrest everyone at once.  The FBI, DEA and other federal law enforcement agencies do this frequently.  Another reason could be they want to arrest someone in person for whatever reason.

Pocket Warrants

Police can also get an arrest warrant but not enter into the national or local databases.  We might see these in cases like sexual assault or injury to a child.

They keep it in their “pocket” in an effort to arrest and immediately interview a suspect.  Think of it this way — if they have a murder suspect and they get a warrant from a judge — if they enter it into the national database, they risk having someone from another agency arrest the suspect at 3 a.m.  This could give the suspect several hours to “lawyer up” and not participate in an interview or interrogation.  The pocket warrant allows the officer to pick the exact time, place, and manner of arrest.

What Should I Do if I Have a Warrant for My Arrest?

You have to turn yourself in.  Most people don’t like hearing this.  Warrants don’t go away on their own and it’s very rare to be able to get a warrant thrown out before arrest.  Most judges and prosecutors have policies in place they won’t even deal with you unless the warrant is taken care of first.  And here’s what I tell my clients — if they don’t take care of the warrant on their own terms, then the warrant will be executed against them at the worst possible time.  Maybe while they are on a dream date.

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