When it comes to misdemeanor crimes in Texas, you may find there is a double standard. In defending your innocence, a court will limit your ability to challenge the character of the witnesses against you. But if you are found guilty, the jury has a freer hand in considering evidence of your character in determining sentence.
Jury Sentenced Assault Defendant Based on Alleged Gang Ties
Consider this recent simple assault case from here in Houston. Assault is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. This is the maximum, of course, and the jury has the discretion to impose a lesser term.
But in this particular case, the defendant received the full year. Here is what happened. The defendant witnessed an argument between his roommate and the roommate’s girlfriend. At one point the girlfriend called her mother to the scene. The parties then exited the apartment and moved their fight to a nearby parking lot where the roommate’s car was parked.
The roommate attempted to get in his car to leave the area. The girlfriend’s mother blocked him. She eventually got into the car and her and the roommate “drove around the apartment complex” for a few minutes, according to court records. When they returned to the parking lot, the roommate “threw” the mother onto the ground. She got up and got back into the car, specifically the driver’s seat.
To make a long story short, the roommate thought the mother and the girlfriend were about to steal his car. The defendant assisted his roommate in removing the two women from the vehicle. During this struggle the defendant “hit the [mother] in the face and bruised her arm.” This is what prompted the assault charge.
At trial, the defendant sought to introduce evidence of a pending shoplifting charge against the mother. The defense argued this helped show she intended to steal the roommate’s car. The judge said the shoplifting charge was irrelevant and refused to let the jury hear about it.
After the jury found the defendant guilty of assault, the jury was then asked to determine punishment. During this sentencing phase, prosecutors were allowed to consider evidence of the defendant’s personal character, specifically his alleged membership in a gang. A police officer told the jury the defendant was “definitely” a member of a specific gang based on his tattoos. The jury also saw photographs of the defendant “standing with a group of people” that the officer claimed were also gang members. Based on this and other information presented, the jury sentenced the defendant to 365 days in jail for the assault charge.
The Texas 14th District Court of Appeals upheld the defendant’s conviction and sentence. It said the trial judge did nothing wrong in either excluding evidence of the accuser’s criminal record or in considering and crediting the circumstantial evidence of the defendant’s gang membership.
Speak With a Texas Misdemeanor Crimes Defense Lawyer
While every defendant enjoys a constitutional presumption of innocence, that does not mean the courts always afford defendants fair treatment during trial. This is why it is critical to work with a qualified Houston misdemeanor crimes attorney who will fight to keep you out of jail. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you live in the Houston, Galveston, or League City areas and require immediate legal assistance (281) 280-0100.