Mental State in Jury Charges: Separate is better

The Court of Criminal Appeals recently remanded Rodriguez v. Texas for new punishment hearing because the Trial Court's jury charge consecutively listed the culpable mental states for which it was possible to convict Appellant of the offense of injury to a child.

There are two interesting points to take away from Rodriguez. First, error in charging mental state, where the mental state is relevant for purposes of punishment but not relevant for purposes of guilt will result only in the Defendant receiving a new hearing on punishment. Second, charging culpable mental states in the disjunctive provides insufficient guidance for the jury in determining what punishment range to apply.

In Rodrieguez, the Court of Criminal Appeals found that language tracking the statutory language of Texas Penal Code § 22.04 (Injury to Child or Elderly Person) fails to provide guidance to the jury during the punishment phase because the punishment for the offense defined by § 22.04 depends on the culpable mental state of the Defendant. See Tex.Pen.Code § 22.04(e)-(g). When the Court instructed the jury on each mental state as one instruction, the Court failed to take into account the varied punishment ranges that applied depending on the jury's finding.

Rodrieguez shows, again, the importance of carefully reviewing the jury charge for errors relating to the applicable mental state, especially where the mental state has an effect on the punishment range to which the Defendant will be exposed.

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