New Service Rule Applicable to the State Prosecuting Attorney Per Misc. Docket No. 19-012
1. “The court of appeals erred in determining that the evidence was sufficient to support Appellant’s conviction for accident involving injury–failure to stop and render aid.”
2. “The court of appeals erred in affirming the trial court’s refusal to give jury instruction on mistake of fact.”
Curry was driving his truck when he hit a cyclist. He did not stop at the scene. The cyclist ultimately died as a result of the collision. The truck’s front passenger headlight was broken and the quarter panel was damaged. Curry was charged with “accident involving personal injury or death” under Tex. Transp. Code § 550.021. At trial, the parties disagreed over what Curry knew when he left the scene. The State’s accident reconstruction experts testified that Curry was aware that a collision occurred because the debris path showed he had swerved. Curry testified that he knew his truck had collided with something because his passenger-side headlight “suddenly burst” but “believed that somebody either threw something, or hit something, or something hit my truck, or that it was just something that had just came up off the road.” He did not stop because he feared the possibility of an altercation with someone. Curry’s girlfriend, who had been following Curry that night in a separate vehicle, testified she did not see Curry strike a cyclist and she thought someone had thrown a bottle at the truck from a nearby parking lot. Curry’s accident reconstruction expert testified that, because the truck sustained so little damage, a reasonable person could have believed that it struck something other than a person or another vehicle. At the jury charge conference, the trial court denied Curry’s request for an instruction on mistake of fact. He was convicted.
On appeal, Curry argued the evidence was insufficient to prove he knew he had been in an accident that involved injury to a person. The court of appeals held that § 550.021 no longer requires that the defendant know a person has been injured. An amendment to the statute expanded its reach to accidents “reasonably likely to cause injury or death.” It also expressly requires drivers to “immediately determine whether a person is involved in the accident.” Tex. Transp. Code § 550.021(a)(3). Consequently, the State did not have to prove Curry knew when he left the scene that a person had been injured; it was enough that Curry was aware that a collision of some kind occurred. The court of appeals also rejected his argument that the jury should have been instructed on mistake of fact. Under Celis v. State, 416 S.W.3d 419 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013), a mistake-of-fact defense is required only if it would negate the mental state required for the offense. Here, Curry’s mistaken belief that he had not struck a person does not negate the required culpable mental state that he knew that he had been in an accident.
Curry contends the evidence is insufficient to prove he was in an accident. He argues that the court of appeals erroneously relied on a dictionary definition of “accident” that the jury did not have. He also argues that the cases the court of appeals cited are distinguishable and do not establish that his collision constituted an “accident.” As to the mistake-of-fact instruction, Curry argues that the court of appeals mischaracterized his mistake. It is not that he mistakenly believed he had not struck a person; instead, he mistakenly believed he had not been in an accident in the first place. The evidence showed he thought that he had been struck by a beer bottle. Because this negates the mental state required by § 550.023, he argues he was entitled to a mistake-of-fact instruction.