Deadly Conduct

Have you been arrested and charged with deadly conduct? If you have been arrested for deadly conduct, it may sound like a strange crime to you. If a loved one has been arrested for this, you may have no idea what happened. You may be filled with anxiety at what they might have done. You may be unfamiliar with what this criminal charge means. Deadly conduct and what it is does not that intuitively comes to mind. Like the similar and related criminal charge of terroristic threat, it doesn’t sound very good. What deadly conduct means is not something that easily comes to mind. Some crimes like assault or possession of controlled substance are easy to immediately gain an idea what they mean. However, deadly conduct is not a concept that comes to mind.  

Deadly conduct is pretty simple to understand. It is similar to assault, and it is grouped together with the assault crimes in the penal code. Although it is related to the crime of assault, deadly conduct has key differences. One key difference is that with deadly conduct there is no physical contact or bodily injury that occurs.  Deadly conduct is about the threat of bodily injury; specifically, either the threat of imminent serious bodily injury or discharging a gun. If you are charged with deadly conduct, you need to consult with a criminal lawyer to get an idea of what your options are, how to approach your case, how to develop a strategy. It is important to consult with and retain a criminal defense attorney who has experience handling deadly conduct charges, and who knows how to defend them.      

What is Deadly Conduct? Texas Penal Code Section 22.05

There are two different kinds of deadly conduct, and two different levels of punishment. Both are serious, but one is more serious than the other. Deadly conduct can be prosecuted as either a Class A misdemeanor or a third degree felony. The difference between the two comes down to discharging a firearm in someone's direction. Like many other crimes, if a firearm is used that aggravates the criminal penalties. Pointing a weapon at someone that will get you charged with felony-level deadly conduct. The statute that sets forth the crime and the penalties of deadly conduct is located in §22.05 of the Texas Penal Code. The test is listed below. These two separate definitions are closely related conceptually. Misdemeanor deadly conduct is general and felony deadly conduct is very specific. In fact, felony deadly conduct listed in subsection (b) is a specific example of the generalized prohibition of subsection (a). Here is the text from the deadly conduct statute:

Section 22.05. Deadly Conduct.

(a) a person commits an offense if he recklessly engages in conduct that places another in imminent danger of serious bodily injury

(b) a person commits an offense if he knowingly discharges a firearm at or in the direction of:

(1) one or more individuals; or,

(2) a habitation, building, or vehicle and is reckless as to whether the habitation, building, or vehicle is occupied

(c) recklessness and danger are presumed if the actor knowingly pointed a firearm at or in the direction of another whether or not the actor believed the firearm to be loaded.

(d) For purposes of this section, "building," "habitation," and "vehicle" have the meanings assigned those terms by Section 30.01. 

(e) An offense under Subsection (a) is a Class A misdemeanor. An offense under Subsection (b) is a felony of the third degree. 

Misdemeanor Deadly Conduct 

Imminent danger of serious bodily injury is a phrase packed full of complicated and legal-sounding words. Imminent means that it must be likely to occur in the moment and not at some future time. It must be impending. Serious bodily injury is an injury that involves a considerable risk of someone dying or a disfiguring injury. However, there is no serious bodily injury, only the immediate danger of such an injury. Misdemeanor deadly conduct could be called attempted aggravated assault, or the threat of an aggravated assault. This is clumsy way to define it, but defining legal terms is difficult, and even explaining the definitions of legal terms is difficult. 

The bottom line is that these words are conclusions, and only serve to underscore that legal work is about facts and breaking down conclusions to uncover those facts that are hiding behind conclusions. When those facts are uncovered, the conclusions can be either undermined or strengthened, depending. Any criminal defense lawyer needs facts to build and support any conclusion and an investigation will uncover those facts. A case is like a suspension bridge underpinned of facts. To understand what deadly conduct means we have to break down this sentence of misdemeanor assault. What is bodily injury? What is serious bodily injury? What is imminent danger? Bodily injury simply means experienced pain. If someone is injured and that injured person experiences any pain, that is enough. Serious bodily injury has a specific definition. 

What Do Serious Bodily Injury and Imminent Danger Mean?   

Serious bodily injury - is bodily injury that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes death, serious permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.  

What is imminent danger? Imminent danger is not defined in the Texas Penal Code. Imminent danger is danger that is impending immediately on the horizon. It is danger that is likely to occur at any moment.

Imminent - likely to occur at any moment; impending. 

Whether danger is present and if that danger is imminent, in large part, is up to the alleged victim’s perception of the event. The alleged victim’s statements and their credibility are very important to the case. If your case goes to a jury trial, the alleged victim’s testimony will also be very important. Because what is or is not imminent danger is up to the victim, misdemeanor deadly conduct can be a somewhat complex crime. This creates a subjective element that complicates events and court cases. People can imagine all manner of danger that is not present. Sometimes there is little physical evidence. Like many assault cases, deadly conduct cases can hinge on the statements and impressions and judgment of just one person, the victim or alleged victim of the crime. 

What Does Reckless Mean? 

What are the penalties of misdemeanor deadly conduct? Recklessly engaging in conduct that places someone in imminent danger of serious bodily injury is a Class A misdemeanor. Recklessly is defined in Section 6.03 of the Texas Penal Code:

Recklessly - a person acts recklessly, or is reckless, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of a nature and degree that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.    

This is complicated legal jargon, but it comes down to being aware of and then disregarding a significant risk that is unjustified. Class A misdemeanors carry a potential range of punishment of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. That is the worst punishments allowed by the charge. It would take very bad case and very bad lawyering to get one year in jail. A victory in a deadly conduct charge is getting a “not guilty” verdict in a jury trial. Getting a dismissal is another victory. If your deadly conduct charge gets reduced to a lesser offense, that is another way to achieve victory. Often, probation is possible. Deferred adjudication is also a possible goal. However, what is possible with your case depends on exactly what happened in your case.    

Felony Deadly Conduct

Felony deadly conduct is characterized by knowingly discharging a firearm in the direction of a person, or a habitation, building, or vehicle and being reckless as to whether the habitation, building, or vehicle is occupied. Knowingly has a specific definition in the Penal Code Section 6.03:

Knowingly - a person acts knowingly, or with knowledge, with respect to the nature of his conduct or to circumstances surrounding his conduct when he is aware of the nature of his conduct or that the circumstances exist. A person acts knowingly or with knowledge, with respect to a result of his conduct when he is aware that his conduct is reasonably certain to cause the result.  

So, "knowingly" essentially means that you do something you are pretty sure that something will happen. If you look at a house, point a gun at the house, and then fire that gun, and the gun's bullet hits the house, you are reasonably certain that the gun will discharge and a strike the house. The bullet hitting the house is reasonably certain result from pointing a gun in the direction of the house and firing. Pointing a gun directly at the house could also arguably be an intentional act, which is one level higher mental state. This is a third degree felony and carries a penalty of two to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. Also, the house or building does not have to be occupied.

An important phrase is in the direction of. This is a synonym of at. If you go to a shooting range, you do not shoot at the direction of the target. You shoot at the target. In the direction of something is a broader concept than discharging a gun at something. This is an element of the offense that can be disputed by a defense attorney during plea negotiations or at trial.  

The person firing the gun must be reckless as to whether there are people inside. What does reckless mean in this context? This is easily satisfied if the person does not take action to go inside to see who is home. Unless the person enters the house and goes into every room and turns on the lights to see if anyone is home, prosecutors will certain argue they are reckless as to whether there is anyone inside. Prosecutors would likely still argue that shooting at a house even if there is evidence that a person did go in every room and turn lights on. This would be a very odd case, but then again, many cases are the product of strange circumstances. Being reckless in this sense just means that the person did not know if anyone was inside or not. To overcome this, the person would have to affirmatively show that he or she knew nobody was home.   

Call Me To Discuss Your Charge

If you are charged with a case of deadly conduct, you need a criminal defense lawyer. Whether it is misdemeanor or felony deadly conduct, whether your charge involves an accusation of putting someone in imminent danger of serious bodily injury, or discharging a firearm in the direction of someone, or at a habitation or building, call my office. We can sit down and discuss your case and your defense. It is often very worthwhile to sit down and develop a strategy with me. During the initial meeting, we will outline the goals of the representation, and develop a plan of how to get there. There are many ways to obtain a victory in criminal justice system. What that victory will be for you depends on what happened in your case. A victory can be a dismissal, or a reduced charge. A victory can also mean that your case does not get indicted by a grand jury, or it can mean a not guilty verdict at trial. I always try to be honest and open with my clients about how realistic the possibilities are for each one. I work all over North Texas. My office is in downtown Fort Worth, and I work across Tarrant, Dallas, Parker, Wise, and Johnson, and surrounding Counties. I love traveling around and working in different Counties across Texas.       

 

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