Texas laws regarding guns can be difficult to understand. On one hand, the state allows people to carry handguns in public without a license to carry. On the other, if a person with no criminal history feels threatened and subsequently pulls their firearm from their holster, purse, or glove box, they could be facing a felony charge of deadly conduct.
But did you know you can also be charged even if you don’t have a gun?
What is deadly conduct?
Under Texas law, deadly conduct is a specific type of assault. It closely resembles reckless conduct but has a more specific focus on firearms. Deadly conduct is an extremely serious charge that can be challenging to successfully overcome without an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney on your side. It is said to have occurred when:
- A person recklessly engages in conduct that places another person in imminent danger of serious bodily injury.
- Someone discharges a firearm at a person, vehicle, or building in a dangerous or reckless manner.
- One person recklessly places another person in danger. Recklessness and danger are presumed if the actor knowingly pointed a firearm at or in the direction of another whether the actor believed the firearm to be loaded or not.
In most cases, deadly conduct is not charged on its own, but instead is charged as a misdemeanor in assault or aggravated assault cases. However, it can be charged as a felony when it involves a firearm.
There are basically four ways for someone to receive a deadly conduct charge. These include:
- Reckless behavior. The lowest level of deadly conduct charged. Intense road rage or other unsafe and reckless practices that don’t necessarily involve a weapon.
- Firing a weapon. While firing a gun at a vehicle or building that you know is unoccupied is not illegal, simply assuming that a structure is empty and firing at it is considered deadly conduct.
- Pointing a firearm at someone. In Texas, even if you sincerely believe that your firearm is empty and you don’t intend to fire it, pointing it at another person is felonious deadly conduct.
- Firing at someone. Recklessly firing a weapon at another person is considered a third-degree felony. Two scenarios in which you could be charged with deadly conduct are firing by accident or firing without checking whether the area was clear.
No one needs to be hurt or killed for a person to be charged with deadly conduct, and an offender doesn’t need to have the intention to hurt anyone. Instead, to be charged with deadly conduct, an individual’s behavior must put someone at imminent risk of serious harm, e.g., if they have a firearm that is believed to be empty but discharges unexpectedly, they’ll likely face serious consequences.
However, there is one exception to deadly conduct: If someone has legally consented to the actions taken by a person holding a gun, the gun holder may have a solid defense against charges of deadly conduct. If the action did not result in actual harm, perceived consent is also a defense.
What makes the conduct “deadly?”
Some noteworthy characteristics of deadly conduct include:
- Deadly conduct involves behavior that places another person at risk for serious bodily injury – an injury that could result in death or permanent disfigurement. The injury need not to have occurred for it to be considered deadly conduct; however, the risk must be present.
- Intent is different in a deadly conduct charge. You do not have to intend to do bodily harm to someone, but the mere act of picking up a firearm in front of another person or group of people shows that you are acting without care about their safety. For example, if you point a gun – even an unloaded one – at another person to intimidate him or her, it is proof that you intend to act in a dangerous or reckless manner.
- Under state law, “[r]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.” An individual can be charged with deadly conduct in Texas if they legally owned the gun, are legally allowed to carry the gun in public, and even if they believe they have the right to discharge the firearm.
What is not considered deadly conduct?
Deadly conduct is sometimes confused with aggravated assault, and those facing assault or aggravated assault charges if they’ve been charged with deadly conduct. In Texas, aggravated assault is considered a first or second-degree felony that occurs when serious bodily injury is inflicted, the victim is a family member or public servant, and can also be part of a retaliation or drive-by shooting.
While there can be some similarity between the crimes of deadly conduct and aggravated assault, deadly conduct is typically charged in cases involving reckless behavior, not in situations where someone intended to injure another person. If a prosecutor cannot prove that an offender acted intentionally or knowingly, they might attempt to allege that the accused had the criminal intent to act recklessly in connection with the alleged victim.
What are the penalties for a deadly conduct conviction?
Deadly conduct without a firearm is a Class A misdemeanor in Texas, and a conviction could result in the following:
- A fine of no more than $4,000
- Up to one year in jail time and/or probation
- Mandatory participation in a diversion program
- Criminal record
- Driver’s license suspension
- Inability to pursue specific career paths
In comparison, deadly conduct with a firearm is a third-degree felony and a conviction could result in:
- $10,000 fine
- Up to 10 years in jail and/or probation
- Participation in a probation-required diversion program
- Inability to pursue specific career paths
- Ineligibility for certain types of government assistance
- Disqualification from owning or possessing a firearm
- Loss of voting privileges
- Inability to hold public office
Being arrested for any crime, including deadly conduct, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re guilty. However, when you’ve being treated like a criminal, defending yourself can seem like an uphill battle. At Mary Beth Harrell Law firm, our criminal defense attorneys understand what you’re facing. When we represent you, we dedicate ourselves to protecting your rights and working hard to reduce or eliminate the charges against you. If you’re facing deadly conduct charges in Central Texas, call 254-680-4655 or fill out our contact form to schedule a personal consultation today. We represent clients in Killeen, Copperas Cove, Temple, and Belmont.
I’ve dedicated my legal career to defending my clients. I demand all the evidence. I investigate all the facts, the so-called witnesses and even the police officers. I make it my business to know the law. Cases can be won or lost before you even set foot inside the courtroom.
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