As a general rule, you are not supposed to conduct any sort of “outdoor burning” in Texas. There are limited exceptions. For instance, if a local government does not provide trash collection services, residents may burn household trash and rubbish on their own property. But even where this exception may apply, individuals need to be careful that any fire produced does not place others at risk.
Appeals Court: Starting a Fire Places Residents, Firefighters in “Imminent Harm of Serious Bodily Injury”
Indeed, the Texas Sixth District Court of Appeals recently held that burning trash can be considered a type of “deadly conduct,” which is a misdemeanor offense under Section 22.05 of the Penal Code. The case before the Sixth District, Stanton v. State, involved a Travis County woman. According to an eyewitness who testified at trial, the woman (i.e., the defendant) was “walking from a mattress fire behind a dumpster at the back of” the apartment complex where both of them lived.
The witness said he asked the defendant “if she had called the fire department.” The defendant said she did not, and that she told the witness to “let the fire burn a little longer,” because the apartment ownership had failed to address the “overflowing” trash situation on the property. Other witnesses confirmed there had been a “mountain” of refuse located behind the apartment complex for about “three or four months” beforehand.
The Austin Fire Department subsequently conducted an investigation. When investigators questioned the defendant she denied starting the fire, claiming she “was not there.” She had simply noticed the fire when the eyewitness approached her. The investigators ultimately determined that “the fire was not accidental and that it was dangerous because it was located approximately thirty feet from a housing area behind the apartment complex.”
Prosecutors charged the defendant with “deadly conduct,” a Class A misdemeanor offense. Section 22.05 defines deadly conduct as “recklessly” engaging in conduct “that places another in imminent danger of serious bodily injury.” Essentially, the prosecution argued the defendant started the fire, and that in doing so she placed residents living near the fire in “imminent danger.” The jury found the defendant guilty and sentenced her to two days in jail.
On appeal, the defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence against her. The appeals court rejected the defendant’s arguments and affirmed her conviction. The court noted “fire is inherently dangerous, especially when it is set in a residential neighborhood.” This created an “imminent harm of serious bodily injury” not only to residents, but also to the firefighters called to extinguish the fire.
Speak with a Houston Misdemeanor Crimes Defense Lawyer Today
While this appears to be one of the first cases to involve the use of the deadly conduct statute to punish someone for burning trash, it should serve as a warning to anyone else thinking about taking similar action in the future. And if you are charged with deadly conduct or any other misdemeanor offense, you should speak with a qualified Houston criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston, or League City today if you need immediate assistance. Call (281) 280-0100.