Friday, November 30, 2012

Anatomy of a Murder: Texas Penal Code Section 19.02

This is the second 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 this post, I'll present the Texas law dealing with murder, and weigh that law against the hypothetical circumstances of the hypothetical case under discussion.

Murder, at least murder in Texas, is defined by Texas Penal Code Section 19.02.  Follow the link to view the entire section. I present what I believe to be the salient portion.

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.
(c) ... an offense under this section is a felony of the first degree.

The portions I excluded define the terms "adequate cause" and "sudden passion", then use those terms to discriminate second degree murder from first degree murder. I think those portions are irrelevant to the discussion at hand. I believe that under Section 19.02 of the Texas Penal Code, we are discussing first degree murder if we are discussing murder at all.

As spelled out in Section 19.02, the definitions are all-encompassing. Surely there must be exceptions somewhere. Without exceptions, the executioner would be guilty of murder, as would be any police officer who killed someone in the line of duty, as would any private citizen who killed someone in self-defense. The exceptions, called justifications, are spelled out in a series of Sections which I list and link to below:

Section 9.02 -- Justification as a Defense
Section 9.21 -- Public Duty
Section 9.22 -- Necessity
Section 9.31 -- Self Defense
Section 9.32 -- Deadly Force in Defense of Person
Section 9.33 -- Defense of Third Person
Section 9.41 -- Protection of One's Property
Section 9.42 -- Deadly Force to Protect Property
Section 9.43 -- Protection of Third Person's Property
Section 9.51 -- Arrest and Search
Section 9.52 -- Prevention of Escape from Custody
Section 9.53 -- Maintaining Security in a Correctional Facility

With respect to our hypothetical, the only justification remotely applicable is Section 9.21, Public Duty. I'll paraphrase and summarize for those uninterested in following the link.
Section 9.21, Public Duty: Conduct is justified if the actor reasonably believes the conduct is required or authorized by law, by the judgement or order of a competent court or other governmental tribunal, or in the execution of legal process.
Section 9.21 would cover the actions of the executioner, the judge, the DA, and the jurors even if the person executed turned out to be innocent. Each of the players just mentioned was performing a public duty required or authorized by law. The section would also cover police officers who testified truthfully during the innocent person's trial. The section would also cover forensic specialists who had not falsified or manufactured results.

I argue, however, that Section 9.21 would not cover anyone who perjured themselves or manufactured evidence. I'll go out on a limb here and guess that even the State of Texas will not argue that perjury or the manufacturing of evidence is required or authorized by law. The Public Duty justification is available only to those people "performing a public duty required or authorized by law." A person may be required to testify, but that person is not required or authorized to perjure himself. A person may be authorized to conduct forensic analysis, but that person is not required or authorized to intentionally fake results.

I therefore argue that for our hypothetical case, no justification exists for any person guilty of an act described by Texas Penal Code Subsections 19.02(b)(1), 19.02(b)(2), 19.02(b)(3). I agree with the State of Texas that anyone committing any such act in Texas, without legal justification, is guilty of first degree murder.

Stay tuned.