1. “What is the standard of review for evaluating a claim of legally insufficient evidence on the State’s non-evidentiary burden of persuasion in a claim of self-defense/defense of others?”
2. “Whether the intermediate-appellate court erred when it determined that the State met its non-evidentiary burden of persuasion and that Appellant was unjustified in acting in self-defense/defense of others.”
3. “Whether the trial court’s erroneous decision not to issue a requested-lesser-included offense was harmless as the intermediate-appellate court concluded in its re-issued opinion?”
Braughton’s parents and brother were involved in a road rage incident with Dominguez, an intoxicated motorcyclist. Dominguez, who happened to live a few houses away from the Braughtons, followed them home. Dominguez and Braughton’s father began arguing in the street. Inside the house, Braughton loaded a handgun and ran outside. In the meantime, the argument escalated into a fist fight, and Dominguez knocked Braughton’s father to the ground. Braughton told Dominguez he had a gun. He ultimately shot and killed Dominguez.
At trial, defense witnesses (Braughton, his parents, and a neighbor) testified that, when Braughton announced he had a gun, Dominguez responded, “You have a gun . . . I have a gun” or “I have something for you” and reached for the saddlebags on his motorcycle. Police later observed that one of the saddlebags was open. The State’s witness, a high-school student who had watched from a solar-screened upstairs window, did not see Dominguez approach the motorcycle or reach for his saddlebag. She saw him stop, put his hands up, and slowly back up. According to the medical examiner, the bullet entered Dominguez’s right armpit, indicating that his shoulders were raised and exposed his armpit. Thus, he could not have been shot while facing Braughton straight on with his arms up. But he also believed that he could have been turning. He also could not have been completely upright and reaching straight across his body to his left (toward the saddlebag) because this would not have sufficiently exposed the armpit However, he could have been reaching some distance away from his body and to the left. The trial court denied Braughton’s request for a lesser-included-offense instruction on deadly conduct, although it did submit manslaughter as a lesser. The jury rejected Braughton’s claim of self-defense and defense of another and convicted him of murder.
On appeal, Braughton argued the jury was irrational in rejecting his defenses. Over a dissent, the majority affirmed his conviction. It concluded, among other things, that the jury could have believed that Dominguez had ceased using any force against Braughton’s father and rationally chosen to disbelieve the defense witnesses’ accounts that deadly force was immediately necessary. The majority determined that, while the defense met its burden of production, the State also met its ultimate burden of persuasion. It held failure to submit a lesser of deadly conduct harmless because the manslaughter instruction gave the jury an option other than murder, and they rejected that option.
Braughton argues that the majority relied on speculation and invalid inferences instead of legally sufficient evidence to reject his defenses. He contends that the evidence, even when viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, conclusively established that he acted in self-defense/defense of others. As to the lesser-included offense, he asserts that the submission of manslaughter, which requires a reckless mental state, did not present the same option as knowing deadly conduct. He argues that if the jury believed Braughton acted knowingly, it only had the option of convicting him of murder or acquitting him; thus, he was harmed.