Saxton v. State

Decision Date27 February 1991
Docket NumberNo. 1404-89,1404-89
Citation804 S.W.2d 910
PartiesJessie Lee SAXTON, Appellant, v. The STATE of Texas, Appellee.
CourtTexas Court of Criminal Appeals

George J. Delaney, Janet Morrow (on appeal only), Houston, for appellant.

John B. Holmes, Jr., Dist. Atty. and Linda A. West, Asst. Dist. Atty., Houston, Robert Huttash, State's Atty., Austin, for the State.

Before the court en banc.


MILLER, Judge.

Appellant was convicted by a jury of murder, V.T.C.A. Penal Code § 19.02(a) 1, and the trial judge assessed punishment at confinement for 15 years in the Texas Department of Corrections 2 and restitution of $1,300. On direct appeal, the court of appeals found the evidence insufficient to support the conviction because the State failed to disprove appellant's defense of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. Saxton v. State, 776 S.W.2d 685 (Tex.App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1989). The appellate court therefore reversed appellant's conviction and rendered a judgment of acquittal. Id. at 689. We granted the State's petition for discretionary review to determine whether the court of appeals erred in finding the evidence was insufficient. Tex.R.App.Proc. 200(c)(5) and (6). We will reverse and remand.

Appellant was the only eyewitness to this offense, other than the deceased of course. Appellant testified at the guilt/innocence phase of trial, and we quote liberally from the court of appeals' summary of his testimony.

[A]ppellant testified that he had invited the deceased over for a drink and after a few drinks on the patio it began to rain and they moved into the living room. The conversation turned to a mutual former girlfriend, Diane Hoge, and the deceased became agitated. Appellant testified that the deceased continued to get more and more belligerent, (sic) refused to leave the house although Appellant repeatedly asked him to leave. Appellant continued to ask him to leave and then picked up his pistol from the bedroom. He stated that, 'I thought maybe that would convince him to leave, ... and he wouldn't. It just kept getting worse.' Appellant was sitting on the loveseat with his pistol in his hand laying on his right leg. He testified the decedent 'kept easing toward' him, walking between the other sofa and the coffee table and then suddenly he lunged at Appellant. Appellant continued, 'I don't think he meant to come over the coffee table. I think he meant to kick it out of the way, and I can't remember whether he literally kicked it out of the way or in the process of lunging at me that he hit the table with his leg.' Appellant estimated that the deceased was about five feet from him when he lunged and stated that he did not aim the pistol when it fired.

Appellant stated that the deceased was very angry, threatened to kill him and that when the deceased lunged, Appellant was frightened for the safety of his family and himself. He reiterated that he was terribly afraid and his state of mind was 'totally fear'. When asked why he told people at the scene it was an accident, Appellant responded, 'Because I didn't mean to kill him, I didn't want to kill him, and I felt like that if I--when I went and got the gun, I felt like that maybe that would make him leave.'

Appellant did not remember when he actually pulled the trigger because '[e]verything happened so fast,' but stated he 'knew he was close because he was in the process of coming at me ... reaching for me.' After the shooting he laid the gun on the coffee table and went to tell his wife to call the police and ambulance.

Id. at 686-687.

Other evidence established that the gun recovered at the scene had one fired cartridge under the hammer and five unfired rounds. A firearms examiner testified the type weapon used in this offense had a "light" trigger pull, must be fully cocked in order to fire, and had a safety mechanism which had to be released to fire. Also, the crime scene investigator stated the fired bullet entered through the deceased's chest, exited through his back about five inches below the nape of his neck, and travelled through the ceiling. A chemist testified there was a bullet hole in appellant's pants leg and the weapon was within one foot of the pants when fired. A photograph admitted into evidence showed appellant sustained powder burns on his leg. The medical examiner stated the deceased was killed by a single gunshot fired at close range, which penetrated the heart, right lung, diaphragm and liver, and also that the deceased had a blood alcohol level of .347. According to the medical examiner the path of the bullet was consistent with appellant's account of the position of his and the deceased's bodies and the weapon.

On the basis of the full record, the court of appeals held the State failed to refute appellant's defense of self-defense. Id. at 688. The appellate court reasoned that pursuant to V.T.C.A. Penal Code § 2.03(d), Van Guilder v. State, 709 S.W.2d 178 (Tex.Cr.App.1985), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1169, 106 S.Ct. 2891, 90 L.Ed.2d 978 (1986), and Luck v. State, 588 S.W.2d 371 (Tex.Cr.App.1979), cert. denied, 446 U.S. 944, 100 S.Ct. 2171, 64 L.Ed.2d 799 (1980), once a defendant has met his burden of producing sufficient evidence to raise the defense of self-defense, the State is required to disprove that defense beyond a reasonable doubt. The court of appeals therefore required the State to produce evidence which established beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant did not act in self-defense. Saxton, 776 S.W.2d at 686 (emphasis in original). The court of appeals noted, however, that for an appellate court to find as a matter of law that the defendant acted in self-defense, the evidence must be uncontradicted and no issue thereon presented for the jury's determination. Id., citing Jenkins v. State, 740 S.W.2d 435, 438 (Tex.Cr.App.1983). 3 The court of appeals found that the State failed to produce evidence to refute appellant's claim of self-defense and that "all of the evidence is uncontradicted and is consistent with self defense." Id. 4

In reaching its decision, the court of appeals relied on language in this Court's decisions in Van Guilder, 709 S.W.2d 178, and Luck, 588 S.W.2d 371, which discussed, among other things, Penal Code § 2.03(d), which was also relied upon by the court of appeals in this case. Section 2.03, entitled Defense, provides in its entirety:

(a) A defense to prosecution for an offense in this code is so labeled by the phrase: "It is a defense to prosecution...."

(b) The prosecuting attorney is not required to negate the existence of a defense in the accusation charging commission of the offense.

(c) The issue of the existence of a defense is not submitted to the jury unless evidence is admitted supporting the defense.

(d) If the issue of the existence of a defense is submitted to the jury, the court shall charge that a reasonable doubt on the issue requires that the defendant be acquitted.

(e) A ground of defense in a penal law that is not plainly labeled in accordance with this chapter has the procedural and evidentiary consequences of a defense.

Critical to the issue in this cause is subsection (d) 5, its meaning and accompanying procedural requisites, if any.

In Luck, the appellant contended the jury charge was erroneous because it did not instruct the jury that the State had to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt the issue of self-defense. After recognizing self-defense is a defense under the Penal Code, the Court noted the applicability of § 2.03(d), reviewed the Practice Commentary, and quoted therefrom "... The effect of Subsection (d) is to require the state to disprove a defense beyond a reasonable doubt after the issue has been properly raised by the evidence. In other words, the defendant has the burden of producing evidence to raise a defense, but the prosecution has the final burden of persuasion to disprove it."

Luck, 588 S.W.2d at 375. The Court held no error was shown in the jury charge because the charge, when viewed as a whole, properly placed the burden on the State to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the appellant was not acting in self-defense. Id. In Van Guilder 6, the Court addressed the standard for an evidentiary review where the defendant has raised an affirmative defense. When discussing the defendant's burden of proof as to an affirmative defense under Penal Code § 2.04(d) 7, the Court noted that

This [2.04(d) ] burden is very different from that required of all other defenses that are not specifically defined as affirmative defenses in the Texas Penal Code. In other defenses the burden of producing evidence is shifted to the defendant. However, after he has met this burden of production, the State must disprove the allegation beyond a reasonable doubt. Tex.Penal Code Sec. 2.03(d). This level of proof is not required of the State in affirmative defense cases.

Van Guilder, at 181. Citing § 2.03(d), Luck, and Van Guilder, the court of appeals concluded "the State must produce evidence which establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Appellant did not act in self-defense." Saxton, 776 S.W.2d at 686, (emphasis added). We find that the court of appeals, by relying on § 2.03(d), Luck, and Van Guilder, utilized an incorrect standard of review for the sufficiency of the evidence when a defendant raises a defensive issue.

As the State correctly asserts in its brief, Penal Code § 2.03(d) and Luck address the mechanics of the jury charge 8 vis-a-vis the State's burden of proof when a defensive issue has been raised by the evidence 9, rather than the sufficiency of the evidence. Arguably, § 2.03(d) appears to impose a burden on the State to directly refute a defense raised at trial, and dicta in both Luck and Van Guilder certainly support such a proposition, but the Practice Commentary to § 2.03(d) and other case law indicate otherwise. First, the Practice Commentary points out that the State has the burden of...

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