Deadly Conduct in Texas
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Using weapons in a dangerous, threatening, or reckless manner is a crime. In Texas, the reckless use of a weapon is known as “deadly conduct” and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony offense, depending on the circumstances. While Texas is the only state that has a specific deadly conduct law, other states have similar laws that apply to the same type of behavior. These laws are known under a variety of names, such as unlawful discharge of a weapon, negligent discharge, or similar terms.
This article discusses firearms and deadly conduct in Texas. For information on simple assault, see Simple Assault in Texas. For information on aggravated assault, see Aggravated Assault and Deadly Conduct in Texas.
Danger of Harm
You can commit a deadly conduct offense in Texas whenever you engage in any type of conduct that you know, or should know, will place someone else at risk of suffering serious bodily injury. For example, if you point a gun at someone else, you can be charged with deadly conduct even if you never fire the weapon or never intend to fire it. It's enough that you intentionally brandish the weapon and know, or should know, that such an act poses a danger to someone else.
(Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 22.05.)
Serious Bodily Injury
Serious bodily injury means bodily injury that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes death, serious permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ. A minor cut, scrape, or bruise is a not serious bodily injury, but loss of an eye or permanent scarring would be considered serious bodily injury.
(Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 1.07.)
Deadly conduct crimes occur when people use firearms without concern for the safety of others or without considering the potential damage or harm their actions might cause. To commit this crime, a person must act intentionally, but not necessarily with the intent to cause harm. For example, you have not committed a deadly conduct crime if you are hunting and accidentally fall, causing your rifle to fire as a result. However, if you are hunting and decide to fire at a building that you come across, without bothering to see if anyone is inside, you've committed an act of deadly conduct. Though it may not be your intention to hurt someone, you have intentionally used your weapon while indifferent to the safety of others.
(Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 22.05, 6.03.)
Discharging a Firearm
Brandishing a weapon at someone else is one way to commit a deadly conduct offense, but you can also commit this crime if you fire a weapon. Texas law provides that anyone who fires a weapon in the direction of someone else has also committed deadly conduct. Further, if you fire a weapon at a home, vehicle, building, or other structure without knowing or investigating whether the building is occupied, this too is deadly conduct. These types of actions are more serious offenses because they involve actually firing a weapon, and are charged as felonies.
(Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 22.05.)
Structures and Vehicles
The law against deadly conduct prohibits firing into any structure, vehicle, or dwelling. Vehicles can include anything that can transport a person or items, such as cars, boats, or aircraft. Buildings and dwellings include homes and structures intended to be used as a place where people live, but also include any enclosed buildings used for business, manufacturing, or any other purpose. It isn't necessary for these buildings or vehicles to be occupied at the time they are fired upon, but merely that they are capable of housing or transporting people.
(Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 22.05, 30.01.)
You can commit a deadly conduct charge even if you use a weapon that isn't loaded. If, for example, you point a gun at a group of people while believing that the weapon isn't loaded, that's still deadly conduct. It's knowingly pointing the weapon at others that is illegal, and the actor's belief about whether the weapon is loaded or not is irrelevant.
(Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 22.05.)
Deadly conduct can be either a misdemeanor or felony offense. Misdemeanors are a less serious crime than felonies, though both can lead to jail time, fines, or other penalties. The Texas penalties for a deadly conduct conviction are similar to those other states provide for similar crimes, though there are significant differences depending on the state and the circumstances of the case.
- Jail or prison. When charged as a Class A misdemeanor, deadly conduct can result in up to one year in jail. When charged as a Third Degree felony, a maximum prison term of up to 10 years is possible, and a minimum sentence of two years is required. This means that a judge cannot sentence you to less than a two year prison term if you are convicted for a felony deadly conduct charge.
- Fines. Misdemeanor convictions in Texas for deadly conduct can result in a fine of no more than $4,000, while felony convictions can have fines of up to $10,000. A court can impose a fine as a sole sentence or in conjunction with a prison or jail sentence.
- Probation. Courts may also sentence a person convicted of deadly conduct to a probation term. Probation will generally last at least 12 months or longer, during which time the probationer must obey specific conditions imposed by the court. These often include regularly reporting to a probation officer, allowing the officer to search your home or vehicle upon demand, not possessing firearms, and not committing more crimes.
(Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 12.21, 12.34, 12.33, 12.32.)
Find a Lawyer
Whether you're facing a deadly conduct charge in Texas or a similar charge in another state, you need to speak to a local criminal defense attorney immediately. Only an experienced attorney can give you legal advice based on the facts of your case and the laws in your state. Local attorneys will also have experience with individual judges and prosecutors, and will be familiar with local law enforcement procedures. All of this knowledge can be vital during the criminal justice process, and if you don't have an attorney who can provide you with advice, you can irreparably damage your case and your chances. It's always in your best interests to speak to a local lawyer as soon as you've been charged with, or learn you're being investigated for, a deadly conduct or related criminal charge.