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Can I Argue Self-Defense in a Burglary Case?

If you are charged with a serious crime in Texas, you have the right to present a defense within the boundaries of the law. For example, if you are charged with aggravated assault, you might argue you acted in self-defense–that is to say, the accuser actually attacked you first. Or in the case of a burglary, you could present evidence that you were on the property in question with the owner’s consent.

Court of Criminal Appeals Finds Problems with Trial Judge’s Rulings Against Defendant

But sometimes, there are scenarios where prosecutors and judges try to prevent a defendant from making such arguments. Recently, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals intervened in a case where the trial judge not only incorrectly barred a defendant from presenting his defense–the prosecutor also misled the jury as to the law.

Here is what happened. The defendant was having an affair with a married woman. One day he went to the woman’s house–with her consent–to feed her cats while she was away. Unfortunately, the woman’s husband came home at the same time the defendant was carrying out this task.

The defendant decided to hide in a closet. What happened next was disputed. The husband claimed the defendant “ambushed him with a shotgun.” The two men struggled for control of the gun–and then a knife–before the two men fled the house.

According to the defendant’s account, however, the husband ambushed him in the closet brandishing the knife. The defendant initially grabbed a gun located in the close. The two men struggled, and the defendant pulled a second handgun on his person, fired a warning shot at the husband, and then left the house.

At trial, the prosecution argued the defendant could argue justification or “self-defense” because he was “unlawfully carrying a weapon”–his own gun–and he “started the fight.” The trial judge agreed and barred the defense from offering any evidence or arguments based on self-defense.

The only thing the defense could argue is that the defendant was in the house with the wife’s consent. But here is where the prosecutor misled the jury, telling them that “the law in Texas is that consent, if any, of any party other than the owner named in the indictment [i.e., the husband] is irrelevant in a burglary case.” As the Court of Criminal Appeals later explained, “That assertion is wrong.”

The jury ultimately convicted the defendant of burglary and aggravated assault. An intermediate appeals court later overturned the assault conviction. And on June 27, 2018, the Court of Criminal Appeals ordered the intermediate court to look at whether or not the trial judge’s “refusal to instruct the jury” on self-defense constituted an error. If so, then such error was “harmful to the defense” and warrants reversal.

Get Help from a Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer

The deck is often stacked against criminal defendants in Texas. This is why you need to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney who understands the system and will fight for your rights. Contact us online or call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Galveston, Houston, or League City if you need help today, (281) 280-0100.