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PRICHARD, ROBERT MONTE

PD-0712-16 09/28/2016

"Is a 'deadly weapon' finding appropriate when the only thing injured or killed is a pit bull rather than a human being?"

Prichard beat his dog with a shovel until she was unconscious and then drowned her in a swimming pool. The jury found him guilty of cruelty to a non-livestock animal and also found that he used the shovel and water, either alone or together, as deadly weapons, which enhanced his punishment to a third degree felony.

The court of appeals held that the deadly weapon finding was appropriate even though the weapons were used against an animal and not a person. It held that interpreting the deadly weapon provision this way would not always result in a deadly weapon finding, because the offense can be committed by omission, which does not require a weapon. It also rejected Prichard's reliance on two cases in which the Court of Criminal Appeals held that a vehicle was not a deadly weapon because there was no evidence of "anyone" or "others" being placed in danger. The court held that the issue in those cases was not who or what was endangered, but whether there was any danger. Here, it held that because the weapons caused death, they were necessarily capable of causing death, so the evidence was sufficient to support the finding.

Prichard contends that construing deadly weapon to include an object capable of causing death to an animal leads to an absurd result that the legislature could not have intended or contemplated. For example, he points out that under this interpretation, a deadly weapon finding could be made if an intoxicated driver kills a dog, rat, snake, or tree. He argues that other cases addressing deadly weapons seem to assume that death or serious bodily injury applies to people. He also challenges the court of appeals' suggestion that commission of an offense by omission precludes a deadly weapon finding. He points out that a deadly weapon finding has been upheld in an injury to a child by omission case when chains were used to prevent a child from eating.

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