Monday, December 3, 2012

Anatomy of a Murder: Subsection (b)(3)

This is the third post in a series of unknown length in which I dissect a possible murder case in Texas. In the first post, cleverly entitled Prelude, I merely posited a hypothetical. If a person manufactured evidence or perjured himself in a case that led to the execution of an innocent man, would that person be guilty of murder?

In the second post, cleverly entitled Texas Penal Code Section 19.02, I presented the section of the penal code dealing with murder. In this post, I will look more closely at the three subsections under which a person may be guilty of murder. I'll note that many of the issues I intend to address in this and in subsequent posts have been anticipated by astute readers in the comments. Since my desire is, at this point, merely to stimulate discussion, I'm encouraged by the quantity and quality of comments.

As a quick refresher, here are the three subsections under which someone would be guilty of murder in Texas.

19.02 MURDER.
(b) A person commits an offense if he:
(1) intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual; 
(2) intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual; or 
(3) commits or attempts to commit a felony ... and in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempt ... he commits or attempts to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual.
I note first that none of the three subsections requires that the murder victim be innocent or guilty of any crime. If, during the sentencing phase of a capital murder trial, a police officer rose from the witness chair, pulled a weapon and shot the defendant dead, that officer would be guilty of murder even if the defendant had just been found guilty by the jury.

To the commentor who suggested this discussion should wait until Preston Hughes has been proved innocent in a court of law, I therefore disagree on two points. First point is as just noted. If someone kills without one of the justifications spelled out in the penal code, one is guilty of murder. The legal status of the victim is of no consequence to this discussion. My second point is that this discussion is not specifically about Preston Hughes, at least not yet. Once we discuss the law, we'll see if the law is applicable to any specific case in which a person was executed.

To the commentor who presumed to know that a previous, similar investigation was conducted "because all the usual suspects were spewing the same old shit about an innocent person being executed," I make the same point: it makes no difference if the person is guilty or innocent of any crime. I add that the comment just referenced was not one of the more lucid. It does, however, reveal more about the commentor than I suspect the commentor would care to admit.

On to considering which of the three subsections might be applicable.

(b)(1) intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual
If someone intentionally stabs a person in the neck with the intent of killing that person, or knowing that doing so will result in the person's death, then that someone is clearly guilty of murder under subsection (b)(1). It's less clear whether someone committing perjury in a capital murder trial is similarly guilty. The perjurer might raise a viable claim that he did not intend to cause the death of the defendant. The perjurer might claim instead that he was only attempting to keep secret his past misdeeds in the case. Alternatively, the perjurer might claim that his intent was to see that defendant be incarcerated for life.

Similarly, the perjurer might claim that he did not know his perjury would lead to the defendant's death. The jury might have acquitted. The jury might have not sentenced the defendant to death even if they did not acquit. The perjurer might point to statistical data that notes that only a small fraction of murderers are actually executed.

Finally, the perjurer might claim that his perjured testimony might not have been the cause of the defendant's death. The perjurer almost certainly would claim that the evidence was so overwhelming that the defendant would have been executed even in the absence of the perjury.

You may certainly disagree with me on my assessment, but I suspect subsection (b)(1) is designed to cover the classic, most obvious cases of murder: shooting, stabbing, suffocation, beating, poison, etc.

(b)(2) intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual
I think that offering perjured testimony of guilt, or manufacturing inculpatory evidence, in a capital murder trial is clearly dangerous to the life of the defendant, whom we still presume to be human, at least as a matter of law. I think the challenging portion of this subsection is the requirement that the perjurer, or manufacturer of evidence, intended to cause serious bodily injury. As just noted, the person might raise a viable claim that his intent was not to cause seriously bodily injury, that he intended only to cover his past misdeeds or see that the defendant was incarcerated for life.

(b)(3) commits or attempts to commit a felony ... and in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempt ... he commits or attempts to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual
This subsection is the only one that does not include intent as an element of the crime. As far as our hypothetical, it only requires that someone contributing to a capital murder conviction commit (or intend to commit) a felony to secure that conviction. Clearly, framing someone for murder in Texas is dangerous to human life and, at least in our hypothetical, led to the death of an individual.

Once again, take note that the law does not discriminate between "guilty" and "innocent" victims. This is as it should be, particularly since perjury (or the manufacturing of evidence) confuses the entire issue of guilt or innocence.

Note also that this subsection is not limited to witnesses. In our hypothetical, anyone who committed a felony as part of a capital murder case that led to an execution is guilty of murder. It makes no difference if that anyone was a witness, and it makes no difference if the defendant was guilty or innocent.

If you commit a felony in Texas that furthers an execution, you are guilty of murder. In the next post in this series, we'll discuss which felonies might occur in our hypothetical case.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's an interesting legal question because I couldn't find any precedent for it. The other one talked about about how the DA might press charges, but it never went that far. The only thing I could find would be that it would not be a murder that could involve the death penalty.


Mike

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