Hernandez v. State

Decision Date22 September 2020
Docket NumberNO. 14-19-00254-CR,14-19-00254-CR
Citation610 S.W.3d 106
Parties Zachery James HERNANDEZ, Appellant v. The STATE of Texas, Appellee
CourtTexas Court of Appeals

Tracy Christopher, Justice

In this appeal from a conviction for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, we consider whether the evidence is legally sufficient to support the conviction, as well as several interrelated issues arising out of the prosecution's untimely disclosure of evidence.

BACKGROUND

The evidence was undisputed that appellant shot the complainant. Appellant claimed that he had acted in self-defense, but the prosecution disputed his version of events and his belief that the shooting was justified.

A. The Defense's Version of Events

Appellant testified that he and the complainant worked together as electricians for a large energy and chemical company. On the day of the shooting, they both appeared at work, received their paychecks, and were dismissed early because of inclement weather.

The complainant could not easily leave the jobsite because he carpooled with another coworker whose job was unaffected by the inclement weather. Rather than wait on the jobsite until the carpooler was released, the complainant asked to hang out with appellant and a mutual friend for the rest of the day. Appellant agreed, with the plan being that appellant would drive the complainant back to the jobsite later that afternoon so that the carpooler could take the complainant home.

Appellant and the complainant then went to a gas station, where they cashed their paychecks. Afterwards, they went to a grocery store, where they purchased alcohol and food. They spent the rest of the afternoon drinking, playing pool, and singing karaoke.

As the time got later in the day, the complainant's body posture began to change, and he indicated that he was nervous about being seen by the carpooler. The complainant asked if appellant could drive him home instead, and appellant agreed, even though the complainant lived more than an hour away.

On the drive home, the complainant began receiving multiple calls on his cellphone, but he did not answer any of them. When appellant asked about the missed calls, the complainant responded that the calls were from a creditor, to whom the complainant owed a lot of money. The complainant also explained that he did not have enough money to pay the creditor, and so he was ignoring the calls.

Once at home, the complainant asked to borrow some money from appellant, but appellant declined. The complainant then invited appellant inside to meet his girlfriend, and appellant obliged. They began drinking again, and the mood was light and friendly, until the complainant left the room and returned with a pistol. Appellant admired the weapon and asked to see it, but the complainant refused and put a bullet in the chamber instead. When appellant asked why the complainant had loaded the pistol, the complainant responded, "Oh, just in case."

Appellant suggested that he should leave, but the complainant said, "No, man.

You don't need to go anywhere." Appellant acquiesced, and then his mind began to race with questions about the complainant's behavior throughout the day. He wondered whether the complainant was involved with dangerous people, and whether the complainant might try to make a move against him, considering that he had several hundred dollars on his person.

The complainant's girlfriend then began to make unusual statements, like saying that appellant was cute, and admiring the keys to his truck. Appellant believed that the complainant was getting irritated by these comments, and so appellant indicated again that he should go home. Appellant stood up to leave, and then the complainant put his arm around appellant's neck and said, "Hey, man. No, you ain't going nowhere. We're going to go smoke a cigarette real quick."

Appellant felt uncomfortable, but he followed the complainant outside after the complainant put the pistol down on the kitchen counter. After finishing the cigarette, appellant reentered the house and saw that the complainant was following closely behind. Appellant then grabbed the pistol off of the kitchen counter and told the complainant, "Back the F up because I'm leaving this place." The complainant charged at appellant instead, so appellant fired a single shot into the complainant's chest.

Appellant told the complainant's girlfriend to call for an ambulance, and then appellant immediately left. When he got home, he called 911, reported that he had shot the complainant in self-defense, and then peaceably turned himself in.

B. The Prosecution's Version of Events

The complainant survived the shooting, and his statements regarding the course of the day mostly aligned with appellant's statements, with some key differences.

As an initial matter, the complainant agreed with the early timeline of arriving at work, receiving his paycheck, and then being dismissed because of inclement weather. He also agreed that he spent the afternoon hanging out with appellant, that appellant ultimately gave him a ride home, and that they spent the evening together drinking and smoking.

However, the complainant testified that he never mentioned to appellant that he owed anybody money. The complainant also disagreed with appellant's statements about receiving phone calls from a creditor. The complainant explained that he owned a prepaid cellphone and that he had exhausted all of its minutes several months before the shooting. Without any minutes, he could neither make nor receive calls, unless he was using an app on a wi-fi network. On the day of the shooting, the complainant actually borrowed appellant's cellphone to let his girlfriend know his whereabouts.

The complainant also described the events at his own home differently. The complainant said that he was a gun enthusiast, and that he brought out the pistol simply to show it to appellant. Because appellant did not express any interest in holding it, the complainant left the pistol on the counter.

The complainant said that he never put appellant in any sort of headlock, nor did he ever charge at appellant. The complainant testified that when appellant came back inside the house after smoking his cigarette, appellant picked up the pistol and pulled the slide back, causing a live round to eject and then fall on the floor. The complainant bent over to pick up the live round, which is when appellant shot him in the chest.

Appellant never said anything to the complainant in the moments immediately preceding the shooting, and the complainant could not think of a single reason why appellant would have shot him. As he recalled the events of the night, the complainant said that there was nothing aggressive or disagreeable about either appellant or the topics of their conversation. Up until the shooting, their interactions had been "extremely pleasant."

C. The Verdict

The jury apparently believed the complainant because it convicted appellant of the charged offense. The trial court then imposed a sentence of seven years' imprisonment.

SUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE

Appellant does not explicitly challenge the sufficiency of the evidence in his brief. Instead, he argues that "the verdict is contrary to the law and the evidence" because "the facts presented ... clearly establish the legal defense of deadly force – self defense under Texas law."

Insofar as appellant believes that he established his self-defense theory as a matter of law, 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—and the prosecution satisfies that burden by proving that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at 608. Because the prosecution's burden requires the production of legally sufficient evidence, we construe appellant's argument as a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. See Bogan v. State , 78 Tex.Crim. 86, 180 S.W. 247, 247–48 (1915) (holding that an argument that a verdict is contrary to the law and evidence only raises a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence).

In this sufficiency challenge, we must determine whether a rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt and against appellant on the self-defense issue beyond a reasonable doubt. See Saxton v. State , 804 S.W.2d 910, 914 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991). The offense here was aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, which meant that the prosecution had the burden of proving the following essential elements: (1) appellant intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly caused bodily injury to the complainant, and (2) appellant used or exhibited a deadly weapon during the commission of the assault. See Tex. Penal Code § 22.02. When deciding whether these elements were proven beyond a reasonable doubt, we consider all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the jury's decision. See Robinson v. State , 466 S.W.3d 166, 172 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015).

Appellant's own testimony established the essential elements of the offense. He admitted that he shot the complainant in the chest, thereby causing bodily injury, and during the commission of that assault, he used a pistol, which is a deadly weapon. Based on these admissions, the jury could have found the essential elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

The jury could have likewise found against appellant on the issue of self-defense. Appellant admitted that the complainant did not have a gun, a knife, a baseball bat, or any other sort of weapon at the time of the shooting. Appellant also admitted that the complainant never once communicated a verbal threat. Appellant claimed that he perceived a threat because the complainant charged at him, but there was a conflict on...

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4 cases
  • Lopez v. State
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • August 11, 2022
    ... ... judgment for that of the factfinder. Thornton v ... State , 425 S.W.3d 289, 303 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014) ...          Contrary ... to Lopez's aspersions, the jury clearly found Mary ... credible. See Hernandez v. State , 610 S.W.3d 106, ... 111 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2020, pet. ref'd) ... (noting that in a sufficiency review, "we presume that ... the jury credited the complainant's testimony") ... Moreover, Mary's testimony alone was sufficient to ... support ... ...
  • Moreno v. State
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • August 3, 2023
    ... ... suggests, substitute our judgment for that of the factfinder ... Thornton v. State, 425 S.W.3d 289, 303 (Tex. Crim ... App. 2014). And whatever Moreno may think of Stephanie's ... testimony, the jury clearly found her credible. See ... Hernandez v. State, 610 S.W.3d 106, 111 (Tex ... App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2020, pet. ref'd) (noting that ... in a sufficiency review, "we presume that the jury ... credited the complainant's testimony") ...          Moreover, ... "[t]he uncorroborated testimony of a ... ...
  • Ramos v. State
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • July 14, 2022
    ... ... stepfather and that he was married to Alicia's mother. A ... rational trier of fact could have found that Alicia was ... Ramos's stepdaughter beyond a reasonable doubt based on ... Ramos's trial admission alone.[5] See Hernandez v ... State, 610 S.W.3d 106, 110 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th ... Dist.] 2020, pet. ref'd) (holding that "the jury ... could have found the essential elements of the offense beyond ... a reasonable doubt" based on defendant's own ... testimony); Barrios v. State, 389 ... ...
  • Perez-Morales v. State
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • September 14, 2023
    ...Crim. App. 2014). And whatever appellant may think of J.P.'s testimony, the jury clearly found her credible. See Hernandez v. State, 610 S.W.3d 106, 111 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2020, pet. ref'd) (noting that in a sufficiency review, "we presume that the jury credited the complainant......

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