OSPA Offers Practically Free Traffic-Stop Training for Rural Law Enforcement
Assistant State Prosecuting Attorney John R. Messinger will conduct a 4-hour presentation covering 4th Amendment issues with a focus on traffic stops. Read more...
"The court of appeals failed to apply this Court's decision in Saunders v. State, 840 S.W.2d 390 (Tex.Cr.App. 1992) in determining that petitioner was not entitled to a lesser-included charge on manslaughter when the jury could reasonably have interpreted petitioner's mens rea as recklessness about causing death."
During an argument between two groups outside an Austin nightclub, Ritcherson stabbed another woman in the chest with a knife. The State charged Ritcherson with murder under two theories: (1) intentionally or knowingly causing the victim's death, and (2) intending to cause serious bodily injury and committing an act clearly dangerous to human life. The first trial ended in a hung jury, and the case was retried. Various eyewitnesses saw different parts of the incident. One witness said the victim lunged at Ritcherson with a high-heeled shoe and the two women "crash[ed] into each other." Others saw Ritcherson holding a knife in the air. One witness testified that Ritcherson reached over the victim's shoulder and stabbed her. Another said Ritcherson did not reach over the victim's shoulder but made an overhand swing as a reflex when the victim hit her and appeared "shocked or confused" afterward. No one testified that Ritcherson acted in self-defense. Ritcherson asked for a lesser-included-offense instruction on manslaughter but was denied. The jury convicted Ritcherson of murder.
The court of appeals found no error in the refusal to grant a manslaughter instruction because the medical testimony did not refute the greater mental state (i.e., that Ritcherson had the intent to kill or cause serious bodily injury) and the jury was free to decide that Ritcherson did intend to cause serious bodily injury. As for the witness who said Ritcherson swung at the victim "as a reflex," the court did not find this testimony raised the lesser-included offense when considered in context. The court compared the case to Cavazos v. State, 382 S.W.3d 377 (Tex. Crim. App. 2012), where pointing a gun at the victim, firing twice, fleeing, and later saying he did not intend to shoot anyone did warrant a lesser-included instruction on manslaughter.
Ritcherson argues that the court of appeals incorrectly used a sufficiency-of-the-evidence analysis and that the evidence did not foreclose a mental state other than intent to cause serious bodily injury or death. She also distinguishes Cavazos, which involved a deadly weapon per se, and argues that under Saunders, the court of appeals should have considered whether the evidence was subject to two different interpretations. In Ritcherson's view, the jury could have reasonably interpreted her actions as reckless disregard for the possibility of death or serious bodily injury, rather than intent.