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Criminal Responsibility Defenses in Texas

In some types of criminal cases, certain types of defenses can be raised to negate the defendant's responsibility for his or her actions. These defenses are all contained under Texas Penal Code, Chapter 8, General Defense to Criminal Responsibility. These are general types of defenses, such as the defense of insanity as one example. It takes a lawyer of great skill and years of experience to be able to utilize these types of defenses. They are not easy to prove, and judges and juries are unlikely to grant this defense unless it is well-proven and they are firmly convinced.

If you are charged with a crime in Texas, contact Texas criminal defense lawyer Jason S. English to fight for your rights and help you get on with your life. You are not alone, and you can fight this.

Texas Criminal Defense Attorney

A criminal defense attorney with experience as a prosecutor understands how the other side approaches the case. With 15 years as a prosecutor with the Travis County District Attorney's Office, Texas criminal defense attorney, Jason S. English has the knowledge and skills necessary to represent you in your criminal case. You have the constitutional rights to a strong legal defense to fight your criminal charges or get a second chance after a conviction.

Defense of Insanity

Under Texas Penal Code § 8.01, titled insanity, it reads as follows:

"(a) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution that, at the time of the conduct charged, the actor, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, did not know that his conduct was wrong.
(b) The term "mental disease or defect" does not include an abnormality manifested only by repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct."

An insanity defense can be incredibly hard to prove, but in the right case, it can protect you from criminal responsibility during times where you were not in your right mind. If a person succeeds on a defense of insanity, he or she will be found "not guilty by reason of insanity." 

As a result of an NGRI finding, a person will be placed into treatment, but not for a period that will exceed the maximum possible prison sentence for the offense in which they were charged. However, depending on the offense, this could mean for the rest of a person's life. Whether an insanity plea is the right way to go is based on the facts of your case, and a long discussion with your criminal defense attorney.

Mistake of Fact Defense

Under Texas Penal Code § 8.02, titled mistake of fact, it reads as follows:

(a) It is a defense to prosecution that the actor through mistake formed a reasonable belief about a matter of fact if his mistaken belief negated the kind of culpability required for commission of the offense.
b) Although an actor's mistake of fact may constitute a defense to the offense charged, he may nevertheless be convicted of any lesser-included offense of which he would be guilty if the fact were, as he believed.

A mistake of fact is a defense that can be used if the defendant:

  • made a mistake,
  • the mistake was of the kind that could be reasonably made, and
  • if the facts were as the defendant thought they were,
  • the defendant would not have had the requisite mental state to be convicted of a crime.

One of the most important parts of this test is whether the mistake was a reasonable mistake to make. Key to this determination is the fact that it is the jury that decides whether or not the mistake claimed by the defendant is reasonable or not. 

Take this example: John grabs an iPad off of a table, honestly believing it to be his. It is the same color as one he owns. In reality, the iPad John grabbed belonged to Sally. John is charged with theft of the iPad. John can raise the mistake of fact defense because he reasonably believed that he picked up his own iPad.

These are the types of situations a mistake of fact defense can be incredibly helpful and important. Accidents should not result in criminal convictions. It is far from fair and is not what the criminal system is designed to do.

Mistake of Law Defense

According to a commonly known phrase, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse." Under Texas law, a person is presumed to know what Texas law is. There are a few exceptions to this general rule, however. Only in these limited circumstances is a mistake of law a valid defense.

To use this defense, the defendant must prove that he or she reasonably believed the actions were not criminal in nature and that he or she reasonably relied upon:

  • a written, official statement of the law from an administrative agency or
  • public official charged with responsibility for interpreting the law, or
  • a written opinion of a court of record interpreting the law.

Basically, a person should be relying on some type of official government statement, comment, or court case that led the person to reasonably believe his or her actions were legal. It requires not only this reliance but that the person still reasonably believed the actions to be perfectly legal. Depending on your particular situation, this defense could be an important part of protecting your constitutional rights.

Defense of Intoxication

Under Texas Penal Code § 8.04, titled intoxication, it reads as follows:

(a) Voluntary intoxication does not constitute a defense to the commission of crime.
(b) Evidence of temporary insanity caused by intoxication may be introduced by the actor in mitigation of the penalty attached to the offense for which he is being tried.
(c) When temporary insanity is relied upon as a defense and the evidence tends to show that such insanity was caused by intoxication, the court shall charge the jury in accordance with the provisions of this section.
(d) For purposes of this section “intoxication” means disturbance of mental or physical capacity resulting from the introduction of any substance into the body.

It is important to understand that "voluntary" intoxication is not a defense. Alcohol or other intoxicants may lower your inhibitions or allow you to do things you would not otherwise do. However, if a person chooses to get drunk or high and commits a criminal offense, then the person will not be able to claim a defense of intoxication.

Involuntary intoxication is different. Texas courts recognize that involuntary intoxication is an affirmative defense when:

  • the accused has exercised no independent judgment or volition in taking the intoxicant, and
  • as a result of his intoxication he did not know that his conduct was wrong 

This typically occurs when a person is drugged or tricked into taking an intoxicating substance. When you never intended to become intoxicated, or never purposefully used a substance that could cause intoxication, this defense may be available to you.

Defense of Duress

Under Texas Penal Code § 8.05, titled duress, it reads as follows:

(a) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution that the actor engaged in the proscribed conduct because he was compelled to do so by threat of imminent death or serious bodily injury to himself or another.
(b) In a prosecution for an offense that does not constitute a felony, it is an affirmative defense to prosecution that the actor engaged in the proscribed conduct because he was compelled to do so by force or threat of force.
(c) Compulsion within the meaning of this section exists only if the force or threat of force would render a person of reasonable firmness incapable of resisting the pressure.
(d) The defense provided by this section is unavailable if the actor intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly placed himself in a situation in which it was probable that he would be subjected to compulsion.
(e) It is no defense that a person acted at the command or persuasion of his spouse, unless he acted under compulsion that would establish a defense under this section.

Simply speaking, duress is a defense that says "another person made me do it, and threatened to hurt or kill me if I don't."  The threat must be imminent and be a threat to cause death or serious bodily injury to him or another person. There are other factors that may be considered, but if you believe this may apply to you, talk to your criminal defense attorney.

Defense of Entrapment

Under Texas Penal Code § 8.06, titled entrapment, it reads as follows:

(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.

This occurs when a government actor overreaches in tempting a person to commit a criminal act. To prove entrapment, the defendant must show:

  • (1) whether the accused was induced to engage in the conduct by a law enforcement agent; and
  • (2) whether the means of inducement used were likely to cause persons, not the accused, to commit the offense.

The defense has the burden of proof in raising the issue of entrapment. Once it has been raised, the prosecution has the burden of disproving that defense beyond a reasonable doubt. This can get complex, but with an experienced attorney, the defense can be used properly.

Defense of Age Affecting Criminal Responsibility

Under Texas law, a person who is under the age of 17 is a juvenile and is generally not to be tried as an adult for crimes. Texas Penal Code § 8.07 goes a step further, holding that those under 15 may not be prosecuted for or convicted of any offense except under specific circumstances. These circumstances include:

  • (1) perjury and aggravated perjury when it appears by proof that the person had sufficient discretion to understand the nature and obligation of an oath;
  • (2) a violation of a penal statute cognizable under Chapter 729, Transportation Code, except for conduct for which the person convicted may be sentenced to imprisonment or confinement in jail;
  • (3) a violation of a motor vehicle traffic ordinance of an incorporated city or town in this state;
  • (4) a misdemeanor punishable by fine only;
  • (5) a violation of a penal ordinance of a political subdivision;
  • (6) a violation of a penal statute that is, or is a lesser included offense of, a capital felony, an aggravated controlled substance felony, or a felony of the first degree for which the person is transferred to the court under Section 54.02, Family Code, for prosecution if the person committed the offense when 14 years of age or older; or
  • (7) a capital felony or an offense under Section 19.02 for which the person is transferred to the court under Section 54.02(j)(2)(A), Family Code.

This law also prohibits the punishment to death for any offense committed by a person under the age of 18. Minors are not allowed to be executed under Texas law, nor can they be executed once they have reached adulthood if the crime was committed while they were less than 18 years of age.

The age defense often depends on a great many factors. However, if you or your child face a criminal charge, and are under the age of 18, this defense could come into play. Protecting your constitutional rights is critical to protecting your entire future.

Consult an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Austin, Texas

If you face a criminal charge, it is important to speak to a criminal defense attorney right away. Contact Texas criminal defense lawyer Jason S. English online or call (512) 454-7548. With his many years of experience, Jason S. English is prepared to fight for your constitutional rights.

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