- "The Court of Appeals Erred in Failing to Affirm the Trial Court's Ruling Denying Appellant's Request for a Section 8.03 Mistake of Law Instruction."
- "The Court of Appeals Erred in Finding that Appellant Was Harmed by the Trial Court's Failure to Provide a Section 8.03 Mistake of Law Instruction."
Jenkins ran for election as a board member of a Road Utility District, and he claimed a hotel in the district as his residence so he could vote in that race. He was convicted of illegal voting, i.e., voting, when he knew he was not eligible to vote. The trial court denied his requested instruction on mistake of law, which was based on Jenkins' contention that he reasonably believed he could claim the hotel as his legal residence, based on opinions from the Secretary of State and Attorney General.
The court of appeals held that mistake of law is a defense that negates an element of the offense. It is not a confession and avoidance type defense, i.e., a defense where otherwise illegal conduct is justified. Therefore, Jenkins was not required to admit that he was not eligible to vote in the election to be entitled to the instruction. It also held that mistake of law applies when a charged offense includes a culpable mental state that incorporates knowledge of the law. The reasonableness of the defendant's belief is a fact question for the jury and is not relevant to the question of entitlement to the instruction. The court determined that Jenkins suffered some harm from the denial of the instruction. It rejected the State's argument that, if the jury concluded that Jenkins believed he could legally vote in the election, it could not have found the elements of the offense, which required knowledge that he was not eligible to vote.
The State argues that mistake of law is a confession and avoidance type defense, which requires the defendant to admit that he committed otherwise illegal conduct, and Jenkins did not do so in this case. The State also contends a defendant is not entitled to submission of a defense that only negates an element of the offense. Here, it points out, that Jenkins' defense that he believed the law allowed him to claim a hotel as his residence simply negates the element of the offense that he knew he was not eligible to vote in that district's election. The State also submits that Jenkins' belief that the hotel was his legal residence for voting purposes was unreasonable as a matter of law, so he was not entitled to the defense. Finally, the State argues that Jenkins was not harmed by the denial of the instruction and that the court of appeals erred by considering only the arguments of counsel in its harm analysis.