The firm of The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp recently tried a case in Austin, Texas County Court 7 and successfully argued self defense to the jury. The charge was criminal mischief, which can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. In this case the State charged their client with a misdemeanor.
The facts of the case were sharply disputed, and three different versions of the event were told to the jury. The undisputed facts were that the complainant, a firefighter, was in a car while the defendant was on a bicycle; defendant smashed out the complainant’s windshield with a bike lock; that the defendant ran a stop sign; and that the complainant and the defendant had a verbal altercation only moments before the incident.
The complaining witness took the stand and told the jury that he was a firefighter, knew the dangers of reckless driving and considered himself a “paranoid driver,” meaning he was always on the lookout for dangers in the road. He said that he was a firefighter on his way to work when he saw the defendant run a stop sign. The complainant then yelled at the defendant about running the stop sign and proceeded down the road to the fire station where he worked. The complainant then stated that as he was waiting to turn into the fire station the defendant smashed his windshield and ran up to the fire station door. The police were called at that point.
The defendant took the stand and told a different version of events. He said that as he was riding down a street that had cracks in it he had to ride in the center of the lane. He said that he heard the complainant “rev” his engine and honk his horn. Thereafter the two had a verbal altercation and the defendant threatened the driver with a broken windshield if he didn’t back off. He then claimed that the car swerved in front of him, barely missing him. At that time, he decided to change course and head to the fire station, which he knew to be a block away. He saw the car stop at the stop sign, but he didn’t wait for the car to go, he ran the stop sign and started pedaling fast towards the fire station. As he was approaching the fire station he claims the complainant ran his car over the bicycle lane and began yelling at him some more. Fearing for his life, but knowing it would not save him if the driver continued to drive into the bike lane, the defendant lashed out by swinging his bike lock at the car, smashing the windshield. He then stated that he ran to the front door and asked for the fire fighters to call the police. Only after he got to the fire station did the defendant discover that the driver of the car was actually a fire fighter who worked at that station. He then decided to wait across the street for the police.
The police arrived about fifteen minutes after they were called. They took the statements of the complainant and the defendant and told them both to go home, write up statements and that an investigator would contact them. An investigator attempted to contact the complainant several times, but never attempted to contact the defendant. The complainant then waited three and a half months before coming to the police department to give a statement. In fact, the next time the defendant heard from the police was when they came to his house to arrest him.
The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp took the case knowing that they were going to argue self defense. Self defense is a justification for criminal behavior. It is not against the law to use force, even deadly force in some circumstances, if you feel as though your safety or life are threatened. Of course, a person must have a reasonable belief that force is immediately necessary to protect yourself before you use force. Also, you cannot start the conflict and then claim self-defense.
In the case of our client, the State attempted to exclude the self-defense jury instruction by making a showing that the defendant knew that striking the complainant’s car with his bike lock was not immediately necessary to prevent serious bodily injury or death to the defendant. However, there is not need to prove that the person claiming self-defense believe that his life was at stake if he did not act, nor believe that he would be seriously injured if he did not act. There is no duty to retreat in Texas, and no duty to take all available alternatives to self-defense. The only requirement for self defense is that a person reasonably believes that force is immediately necessary to protect the actor against another’s illegal use of force.
The court granted our request for a jury instruction on the issue of self-defense over the State’s objections. The jury weighed the facts, determined credibility, followed the law, and acquitted our client. They believed our client’s version of the events, or at least, they did not believe that the State had disproved the assertion that our client acted in self-defense.
If you are charged with a crime of violence against a person or property, but you believe that your use of force was justified, then you may have a legal excuse for your actions. If you believe that your actions may be justified then you need an experienced and knowledgeable attorney to examine your facts, explain the law to you, and zealously represent your rights. If you or a loved one has been charged with a violent crime then contact the law offices of The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp today for your free consultation.