Braughton v. State

Decision Date19 December 2018
Docket NumberNO. PD-0907-17,PD-0907-17
Citation569 S.W.3d 592
Parties Christopher Ernest BRAUGHTON, Appellant v. The STATE of Texas
CourtTexas Court of Criminal Appeals

Alcala, J., delivered the opinion of the Court in which Keasler, Richardson, Newell, and Keel, JJ., joined.

In this petition for discretionary review filed by Christopher Ernest Braughton, Jr., appellant, we affirm the court of appeals's conclusions that the evidence was legally sufficient to uphold his murder conviction and that there was no harmful error in the jury charge due to the omission of a lesser-included offense instruction on felony deadly conduct. At trial, appellant acknowledged shooting the complainant, Emmanuel Dominguez, but he claimed that he did so because he reasonably believed the use of such force was immediately necessary to protect himself and his father against Dominguez's attempted use of deadly force. The jury rejected appellant's defensive theory, convicted him of murder, and assessed a sentence of twenty years' imprisonment. We conclude that, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and deferring to the jury's credibility determinations and its resolution of the conflicting testimony, the evidence supports a rational jury's rejection of appellant's self-defense and defense of third person claims, and thus the evidence is legally sufficient to uphold his conviction for murder. Furthermore, assuming it was error to deny the instruction on felony deadly conduct, our review of the record demonstrates that appellant was not harmed by any such error in the trial court's charge. We, therefore, affirm the judgment of the court of appeals upholding appellant's conviction and sentence for murder.

I. Background

We review the factual background before turning to the analysis conducted by the court of appeals.

A. Factual Background

The events at issue in this case occurred one evening in May 2013 in a residential subdivision in Spring. At that time, appellant, who was twenty-one years old, lived in a house situated on a cul-de-sac with his parents, Melissa and Ernest Braughton Sr., and his younger brother Devin. The complainant, twenty-seven-year-old Emmanuel Dominguez, also lived in that cul-de-sac, having moved there two weeks earlier to live with his girlfriend. Although they were neighbors, the Braughtons testified that they had never seen Dominguez before the day of his death and were unaware that he lived on their street.

Earlier that day, after spending the afternoon drinking at several bars in the Spring area, Dominguez got into an argument with his girlfriend. At around 9:45 p.m., Dominguez indicated he was ready to leave the bar to go home. His girlfriend refused to go with him, and she stayed behind at the bar. Dominguez departed for home alone on his motorcycle.

On his way home, Dominguez encountered appellant's father, Braughton Sr., who was also driving home after going to dinner with Melissa and Devin. According to testimony from Braughton Sr. and Melissa, Dominguez began tailgating Braughton Sr.'s car while revving his engine and, at one point, he was following so closely that he set off the car's rear proximity sensor. Appellant's parents reported that, as they drove through their neighborhood, Dominguez sped to the side of their car and swerved as if to hit them. Later, Dominguez again swerved toward the family's car and then pulled into the lane in front of them, slamming on his brakes. Braughton Sr. reported that he slammed on his brakes to avoid a collision and then drove around the motorcycle "fast." Dominguez continued tailgating and following the family's car "right on [the] bumper." Braughton Sr. was speeding and trying to get away from the motorcycle, believing that Dominguez was "fixing to carjack us, rob us."

As the family's car pulled into the cul-de-sac, Melissa made a phone call to appellant, who had stayed behind at home while the rest of the family was out at dinner. Melissa recalled stating to appellant, "Son, this guy is chasing us, we're right by the house," whereas Braughton Sr. recalled her saying, "Son, there's a guy chasing us, I'm scared." The call lasted only a few seconds. According to Braughton Sr., Melissa's tone was "very frantic." Melissa testified that she was fearful that the man on the motorcycle would "shoot into the car," and she was "panicking" because she was "not knowing what he's going to do to us."

After the point in time at which the vehicles arrived in the cul-de-sac, the descriptions of the events differ significantly and it is necessary to detail the particular versions as told by different witnesses. We begin with the defense witnesses because they provide a more complete story from beginning to end, before turning to the State's witnesses who discussed portions of the events. The relevant defense witnesses included appellant's parents, appellant, and a neighbor, Glen Irving. The State's witnesses included neighbors Robert Bannon and a teenager, Gina,1 the medical examiner Dr. Gonsoulin, and the lead scene investigator, Deputy Medina.

1. Appellant's Parents

Because the testimony of appellant's parents is mostly consistent, we address their testimony jointly.

As the vehicles entered the cul-de-sac, they circled around and came to a stop in the street. Braughton Sr. reported that Dominguez then "fell" off his bike without engaging the kick stand and immediately ran toward his car. Braughton Sr. got out of the car and yelled at his wife and son Devin to get inside the house and call 911. Braughton Sr. stated that, as Dominguez was "hollering" at him, he could smell alcohol and he believed Dominguez was "drunk." Braughton Sr. recalled telling his wife at this point, "Call 911, he's drunk." Braughton Sr. acknowledged that he was also yelling at Dominguez and asking him why he was following so closely.

Braughton Sr. stated that, after approaching him, Dominguez punched him twice in the face. Braughton Sr. pushed Dominguez back. Melissa began running towards the entrance to her house with Devin, trying to get him inside. At this point, appellant came out of the house with his hand in the air holding a gun, saying, "Stop, I have a gun. Stop I have a gun."2 Dominguez punched Braughton Sr. again, and Braughton Sr. fell to the ground. At this point, Braughton Sr. and Melissa reported that they heard Dominguez say, "You got a gun motherf**ker, I have something for your f**king ass," or, alternatively, "Oh, you got a gun, motherf**ker, I got a gun for your ass."3 Braughton Sr. and Melissa then reported that they observed Dominguez turn and open a box or saddlebag on his motorcycle, reach into it, and then they heard the "pop" of the gun.4 Immediately prior to the shot, Braughton Sr. saw appellant pointing his gun and standing approximately three feet away from Dominguez. Braughton Sr. asserted that he did not say anything to appellant, nor did he hear his wife tell appellant to go back inside. He did not observe Dominguez raise up his hands or begin backing away from appellant. After Dominguez was shot, Braughton Sr. observed him stumble backwards towards the curb, where he fell. Melissa ran outside holding the phone and stating that she had the 911 operator on the line, and she handed Braughton Sr. the phone.

On cross-examination, the State sought to impeach appellant's parents' version of the events by pointing out inconsistencies between their trial testimony and prior out-of-court statements. Among other matters, the State noted that Braughton Sr. had previously indicated that Dominguez "lunged" at appellant immediately prior to being shot, and the State suggested that that testimony was inconsistent with Braughton Sr.'s trial testimony that Dominguez had been shot while reaching over to retrieve something from his saddlebag. The State also pointed out that, on the 911 call immediately following the incident, Braughton Sr. had not told anyone that the Braughtons were afraid Dominguez was going to rob or carjack them or concerned that he was about to retrieve a gun; instead, Braughton Sr. told the 911 operator that Dominguez was following him and had attacked him, and that his son shot Dominguez. The State further highlighted that Braughton Sr. had not at any point told police officers following the shooting that Dominguez appeared to be reaching for a gun. In his prior statement, Braughton Sr. had indicated that he "may" have punched Dominguez once or twice, but during his trial testimony he denied doing this and said he only pushed Dominguez back.

The State similarly sought to impeach Melissa's testimony by showing that, in an out-of-court statement made around one month after the shooting, she had indicated that she may have told appellant to take his gun inside when she first saw him coming out of the house, but in her trial testimony she denied having made that statement. The State also highlighted the fact that, although Melissa indicated she did not see the shooting and never saw appellant point a gun at Dominguez, she did contend that she saw Dominguez reach into his saddlebag immediately prior to the shooting while she was running towards the house and away from the scene of the shooting. The State further pointed out that, when Melissa had given a statement to an investigating officer on the night of the shooting, she had not mentioned that Dominguez verbally threatened that he had a gun or that he appeared to be reaching for something.

2. Appellant

Appellant testified that, on the night of the shooting, he was sitting in the kitchen when he got a call from his mother. He said she was "kind of screaming" and "sounded terrified." Appellant had never heard his mother like that before and could tell something was wrong. Melissa told appellant there was "some guy chasing" them. At that point, appellant ran to the front door and opened it. He heard a loud motorcycle noise and ran back inside to grab his gun from the night stand in his parents'...

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  • Hernandez v. State
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • September 22, 2020
    ...his argument is flawed because "the issue of self-defense is an issue of fact to be determined by the jury." See Braughton v. State , 569 S.W.3d 592, 609 (Tex. Crim. App. 2018). The prosecution's burden on that issue is merely one of persuasion—i.e., to disprove the claim of self-defense—an......
  • Patterson v. State
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    ...of the evidence is measured by the elements of the offense as defined by a hypothetically correct jury charge. Braughton v. State , 569 S.W.3d 592, 608 (Tex. Crim. App. 2018) (citing Malik v. State , 953 S.W.2d 234, 240 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997) ). Such a charge is one that accurately sets out......
  • Gilbert v. State
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    ...the jury impliedly rejected his assertion that he was acting in self-defense. See Braughton v. State , No. PD-0907-17, 569 S.W.3d 592, 609, 2018 WL 6626621, at *12 (Tex. Crim. App. Dec. 19, 2018) ("A jury verdict of guilty is an implicit finding rejecting the defendant’s self-defense theory......
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    ...issue beyond a reasonable doubt. Saxton v. State , 804 S.W.2d 910, 914 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991) ; see also Braughton v. State , 569 S.W.3d 592, 609 (Tex. Crim. App. 2018) (reaffirming Saxton ). To support a claim of self-defense, the defendant bears the burden to produce some evidence to supp......
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4 books & journal articles
  • Trial issues
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Texas Criminal Lawyer's Handbook. Volume 1-2 Volume 2
    • May 5, 2022
    ...evidence supporting the defense, while the State bears the burden of persuasion to disprove the raised issues. Braughton v. State, 569 S.W.3d 592, 608 (Tex. Crim. App. 2018). The defendant’s burden of production requires him to adduce some evidence that would support a rational finding in h......
  • Trial Issues
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Texas Criminal Lawyer's Handbook. Volume 2 - 2019 Contents
    • August 16, 2019
    ...evidence supporting the defense, while the State bears the burden of persuasion to disprove the raised issues. Braughton v. State, 569 S.W.3d 592, 608 (Tex. Crim. App. 2018). The defendant’s burden of production requires him to adduce some evidence that would support a rational finding in h......
  • Trial Issues
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Texas Criminal Lawyer's Handbook. Volume 2 - 2020 Contents
    • August 16, 2020
    ...evidence supporting the defense, while the State bears the burden of persuasion to disprove the raised issues. Braughton v. State, 569 S.W.3d 592, 608 (Tex. Crim. App. 2018). The defendant’s burden of production requires him to adduce some evidence that would support a rational finding in h......
  • Trial Issues
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Texas Criminal Lawyer's Handbook. Volume 2 - 2021 Contents
    • August 16, 2021
    ...evidence supporting the defense, while the State bears the burden of persuasion to disprove the raised issues. Braughton v. State, 569 S.W.3d 592, 608 (Tex. Crim. App. 2018). The defendant’s burden of production requires him to adduce some evidence that would support a rational finding in h......

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