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Rodriguez v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas

January 10, 2018




          Keasler, J.

         Robert Rodriguez assaulted a man, shattering the victim's knee and causing him serious bodily injury. Rodriguez contends that, while he intended to cause some bodily injury to the victim, he did not honestly believe that his actions would result in serious bodily injury. Rodriguez claims he should have received a jury instruction that, if his belief was reasonable under the circumstances, he should be convicted only of misdemeanor assault. We disagree.


         The essential facts are these: Robert Rodriguez and his brother assaulted Francisco Plaud-Acosta in a nightclub parking lot. Francisco's knee was badly damaged as a result. "It required surgery, followed by a long recovery period and physical therapy."[1] It is unlikely that Francisco's knee will ever regain its pre-injury form.

         The State's theory was that Francisco's assault took place in the course of a car-jacking. Rodriguez was charged with aggravated robbery and aggravated assault.

         A. At Trial

         Both sides elicited testimony suggesting that an injury of this severity was not reasonably foreseeable, given its (relatively) low-impact cause. Dr. Trent Twitero, Francisco's orthopedic surgeon, "thought it a bit unusual" that Francisco's knee was damaged as badly as it was, "because usually in a bar fight we don't see an injury quite like that[.]" He considered the damage caused to Francisco's knee to be more on par with "car accidents, or falls from a height[.]" Dr. Twitero also compared Francisco's injuries to those sometimes sustained by professional football players: "you know, a very fast and athletic linebacker could hit your knee when it was planted." And he described the very particular positioning one's leg would have to be in for an injury of this nature to occur: "I think he probably would have had to be bearing weight on that leg at the same time to kind of set it up with enough tension to cause that."

         When both sides rested and closed, the jury charge was drafted. The charge included the following instruction:

Transferred Intent
The State's accusation is that the defendant intentionally or knowingly caused serious bodily injury to Francisco Plaud-Acosta.
"Transferred intent" means a person is criminally responsible for causing a result if the only difference between what actually occurred and what the person desired, contemplated, or risked is that: (1) a different offense was committed; or (2) a different person or property was injured, harmed, or otherwise affected.
This means that a person is criminally responsible for causing serious bodily injury to a person although the person did not intend or contemplate that the bodily injury be "serious" as long as the person intended or had knowledge that his conduct would cause any bodily injury to the person.[2]

         Rodriguez objected to this instruction. His objection was overruled.

         Citing our opinion in Thompson v. State, [3] Rodriguez then requested a mistake-of-fact instruction under Texas Penal Code Section 8.02. Rodriguez's theory was that, if the jury believed his intent was only to cause non-serious bodily injury (sometimes called "simple" bodily injury), [4] he should be acquitted of aggravated assault and convicted of misdemeanor assault.[5] This request was denied.

         The jury acquitted Rodriguez of aggravated robbery, convicted him of aggravated assault, sentenced him to 12 years' imprisonment, and assessed a $10, 000 fine.

         B. On Appeal

         Rodriguez raised only a single point of error before the Fourth Court of Appeals: that the trial judge erred when he failed to include Rodriguez's requested mistake-of-fact instruction. Citing Thompson and Louis v. State, [6] Rodriguez argued that, because "the transferred intent doctrine was used to transfer the intent from the bodily injury offense (assault) to the serious bodily injury offense (aggravated assault), " he was "entitled . . . to urge the mistake of fact defense-that he had a reasonable, but mistaken belief that he was only inflicting bodily injury."[7]

         The court of appeals agreed: "[B]ecause the trial court gave the jury an instruction on transferred intent . . . and Rodriguez requested a mistake-of-fact instruction, the trial court erred in refusing Rodriguez's request."[8] The court of appeals concluded that, because "[i]t would not be unreasonable for Rodriguez to be mistaken about the type of injuries his actions . . . would cause, " the trial court's failure to give a mistake-of-fact instruction prevented Rodriguez from presenting a viable defense.[9] It reversed Rodriguez's conviction and remanded the case back to the trial court.[10]

         C. Discretionary Review

         The State raises the following issue on discretionary review: "Does the submission of an instruction on transferred intent entitle a defendant to an instruction on mistake of fact even if the greater offense does not have any additional culpable mental state and there is no evidence that the defendant harbored a mistaken belief?"

         II. LAW

         In Thompson v. State, we "consider[ed] the scope of" Texas Penal Code Section 6.04(b)(1), which provides:

A person is nevertheless criminally responsible for causing a result if the only difference between what actually occurred and what he desired, contemplated, or risked is that . . . a different offense was committed[.][11]

         We concluded that this provision "can be used under certain circumstances to transfer intent from a lesser offense to a greater offense, even when those offenses are contained within the same penal code section."[12] Thus, in a prosecution for injury to a child, the intent to cause bodily injury "transfers" so that the offender may be criminally liable for any serious bodily injury that in fact occurs.[13]

         We recognized immediately that this construction could, if left unchecked, raise a "concern that a person could be penalized far beyond his actual culpability."[14] We thus saw fit to discuss one such check, the Section 8.02 mistake-of-fact defense:

It is a defense to prosecution that the actor through mistake formed a reasonable belief about a matter of fact if his mistaken belief negated the kind of culpability required for commission of the offense.[15]

         So long as one's mistaken belief about the extent of the injury being inflicted is reasonable under the circumstances, we said, he may claim mistake-of-fact.[16] "Of course, he would still be guilty of the lesser-included offense of intending to cause bodily injury."[17] We suggested that whenever a defendant in a criminal proceeding is "subject[ed] to" the transferred-intent instruction, he is "entitled (upon request) to a mistake of fact instruction."[18] Later, in Louis v. State (another injury to a child case), we emphasized the "entitled" language used in Thompson, furthering the idea that giving a mistake-of-fact instruction under these circumstances should be automatic (or, as the State puts it, "reflexive").[19]

         On the other hand, we recently reaffirmed, in Celis v. State, that a mistake-of-fact instruction should only be given when the actor's mistake "negate[s] the culpable mental state required for the offense."[20] We noted that, in a prosecution for falsely holding oneself out as a lawyer, the State need not prove a culpable mental state with respect to whether the defendant was "in good standing with the State Bar of Texas."[21] We concluded that a mistake-of-fact instruction would not be warranted as to that particular element-even if the defendant's mistake was reasonable under the circumstances-because any such mistake would not negate an elemental culpable mental state.[22] Conversely, in prosecutions for first-degree injury to a child (à la Thompson and Louis), the State does have the burden to prove culpability with respect to the causing of serious bodily injury (at least in the absence of any transferred-intent instruction).[23] This means that when it comes to causing injury to a child, a mistake about the potential injuriousness of one's conduct might negate an elemental culpable mental state, satisfying that particular prerequisite for a mistake-of-fact instruction.[24]

         These corresponding doctrines (Thompson's suggestion that a defendant subjected to a transferred-intent instruction is "entitled" to mistake-of-fact and Celis's reaffirmation that mistake-of-fact must negate an elemental culpable mental state) raise the following, largely dispositive question in this case: In a prosecution for aggravated assault, does the State have the burden to prove that the defendant harbored a culpable mental state with respect to the element of "serious bodily injury"?

         III. ...

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