Texas Twelfth Court of Appeals Considers Whether Wheelchair-Bound Person Could Claim Self-Defense in Smith County Case – Curl v. State

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Curl v. State: A Comprehensive Review of Texas Self-Defense Law

On April 17, 2024, the Texas Twelfth Court of Appeals in Tyler issued its opinion on Curl v. State, a case emerging from Smith County that examines the threshold for obtaining a self-defense instruction in an Assault case under Texas law.

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Case Background: The Charges and Trial

Richard Edward Curl was indicted for Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon after shooting his cousin. After a jury trial in Smith County, Curl was found guilty and sentenced to fifty years in prison due to prior offenses, setting the stage for a contentious appeal centered around the refusal of a self-defense instruction at trial.

Detailed Analysis of the Appeals Court Decision

The appellate court reviewed Curl’s claim that the trial court improperly denied a jury instruction on self-defense. The court concluded there was no error as the evidence did not support Curl’s claim that he perceived an immediate threat warranting self-defense, even though he was wheelchair-bound and surrounded by vehicles.

Appellant does not contest the evidence that he used deadly force when he shot at Allen. As shown above, the record reveals no evidence that Allen had a weapon. Nor is there any evidence Allen issued any verbal warning of an intent to use deadly force. The evidence is undisputed that Appellant told the officers he felt no fear and did not see a weapon in Allen’s hands before he began shooting. As a result, the record contains no evidence that Appellant had a reasonable belief that it was immediately necessary to shoot at Allen to protect himself from Allen’s use, or attempted use, of unlawful deadly force.

Legal Standards for Self-Defense Instructions

The decision reiterated the standards for when self-defense instructions should be given, emphasizing that there must be evidence suggesting an immediate and unlawful threat to the defendant.

The court’s analysis reasoned that under Texas law, “the evidence does not need to show that the victim was actually using or attempting to use unlawful deadly force, because a person has the right to defend himself from apparent danger as he reasonably apprehends it.” Jordan v. State, 593 S.W.3d 340, 343 (Tex. Crim. App. 2020). However, “the evidence must raise each element of the defense.” Stefanoff v. State, 78 S.W.3d 496, 499 (Tex. App.—Austin 2002, pet. ref’d). “If evidence is such that a rational juror could accept it as sufficient to prove a defensive element, then it is said to ‘raise’ that element.”

Implications for Future Self-Defense Claims

In this case, the trial court denied the instruction, finding that no evidence existed to support an instruction on the use of deadly force in self-defense. The appellate court affirmed the ruling. This opinion is critical for understanding how self-defense claims will be treated in Texas courts, particularly in cases where the perceived threat is not supported by clear evidence. Defense attorneys must introduce evidence sufficient to establish each element of the Self-Defense law.

Concluding Thoughts on Curl v. State and Its Impact on Criminal Law

The Curl v. State decision by the Texas Twelfth Court of Appeals clarifies the application of self-defense in assault cases, potentially influencing future legal strategies and court rulings in similar cases across Texas.

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