We recently posted a video of a road rage incident that occurred in Houston. When we showed this video to the Texas Independent Program Attorneys, it reminded them of their old law school exams. This video has so many issues, crimes, and defenses floating around from moment to moment, we asked Michele Byington (Attorney for Walker & Byington, and Independent Program Attorney for Texas Law Shield) to navigate through these events. All in all, she counted five different issues, all of which could have been de-escalated by either party at any time!
- Did the woman yelling at the white car commit a crime?
The video begins with a woman yelling at two men in a white car. She is aggressively shouting at them through the passenger window. Can the men in the white car defend themselves from this woman?
In this situation, the woman did not cause bodily injury to another nor cause any physical contact with another. Therefore, one of the men would have to show he was afraid of her using unlawful force against him. Without knowing exactly what the woman said, it is difficult to determine whether she threatened anyone in the car with imminent bodily injury. In fact, a person will not be justified in using force with verbal provocation alone.
- Did the men in the car commit a crime when they threw the drink at the woman? Could she have done anything in response?
Let’s look at the Texas definition of assault. Assault is defined as:
- The intentional, knowing, or reckless causation of bodily injury to another,
- The intentional or knowing threatening of another with imminent bodily injury, or
- The intentional or knowing causation of physical contact with another person when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.
Did the man intentionally cause physical contact and reasonably believe that the woman would regard the contact as provocative? Probably! The man intended to throw the drink at the woman which caused the physical contact that the woman seemed to find provocative making the act an assault.
Could the woman have used force to protect herself? Maybe. Texas Penal Code 9.31(c) allows the use of force in self-defense if the actor did not provoke the other’s use of unlawful force. From this provision, the woman may be disqualified from using force in self-defense since it appears she provoked the attack. However, she could have possibly regained the right of self-defense. The law allows an individual who provoked the other’s use of force to engage in self-defense if:
- The actor abandons the encounter or clearly communicates to the other an intent to do so if he does not believe he can reasonably abandon the encounter, and
- The other nevertheless continues or attempts to use unlawful force against the other.
In this case, the video shows the woman walking away. Because she was walking away, it can be said that she abandoned the encounter. As such, she would regain the right to use force in self-defense (should the need arise).
- What can the men in the white car do to protect their property?
In the next scene, the truck driver does a flying leap kick into the car, smashing a headlight. The men in the white car may be able to use force in defense of their property. Texas Penal Code 9.41 allows an individual to use force against another when and to the extent the actor reasonably believes it is immediately necessary to prevent or terminate another’s unlawful interference with property.
Given that the truck driver had smashed one headlight, it would not be impossibly difficult to convince a jury that the driver of the white car believed the truck driver would continue to damage his car. Therefore, the use of force may have been justified. With that said, the white car driver and passenger could have just disengaged and taken down his license plate number!
- Can the truck driver claim self-defense for his part in the fight?
In the following scene, the truck driver quickly realized the error of his ways when the two gentlemen ran from the white car and began fighting him. While the white car driver and passenger may have some manner of defense (defense of property, and defense of another’s property), we have to ask ourselves, did the truck driver have a claim of self-defense when fighting back?
Texas Penal Code 9.31 allows a person to use force in self-defense if the actor believes if it is immediately necessary. The statute further elaborates that if you have provoked the other person, you lose your justification of self-defense. In this instance, the truck driver likely lost his ability to act in self-defense by provoking the person against whom he intended to use force by kicking in their front head light.
Additionally, when the truck driver hid behind the woman, and she was punched, it is unclear whether or not such punching would be justified by the car driver. By pulling and tugging at the car drivers, she did enter into the fracas voluntarily; however, she also had abandoned the encounter earlier! Ultimately, because this is too wishy washy, it would most likely be a question for the jury to answer. At this point, it is unknown how a jury would fall on this issue.
- What crime did the truck driver commit in reversing his truck and hitting the white car?
Once the fight ended, the truck driver and the woman hopped into the truck, and they rammed the white car. There was no justification for this, as the fight was clearly over, with both parties re-entering their vehicles. What crime did he commit? Possibly aggravated assault! Texas Penal Code 22.02 defines aggravated assault as:
- Causing serious bodily injury to another, or
- Using or exhibiting a deadly weapon during the commission of the assault.
Looking back at the definition of assault, the most applicable provisions involve the intentional, knowing, or reckless causation of bodily injury to another and the intentional or knowing threat of another with imminent bodily injury.
He may be deemed to have intentionally or knowingly threatened the men in the white car with imminent bodily injury. But does it rise to the level of aggravated assault?
Texas Penal Code 1.07(17) defines “deadly weapon” as:
- Anything that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.
In this case, it is possible that the truck would be considered a “deadly weapon.” If this were the case, the truck driver could be guilty of aggravated assault which is a second-degree felony, punishable by 2-20 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000! In fact, as he is reversing his truck into the white car, the white car driver or passenger could have potentially been justified in using deadly force to defend themselves!
As you can see, one incident can have a number of legal implications. This situation spiraled out of control, and no party is perfectly without fault. This all could have been avoided by simply not engaging the other party. So drive safely out there and think before you act!