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Date: 02-24-2020

Case Style:

Humberto Ramirez v. The State of Texas

Case Number: Nos. 04-19-00074-CR & 04-19-00075-CR

Judge: Rebeca C. Martinez

Court: Fourth Court of Appeals San Antonio, Texas

Plaintiff's Attorney: Joe D. Gonzales
Andrew Warthen

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On May 27, 2017, Ramirez attended a family party at which a fight broke out. In
connection with the fight, Ramirez was charged with four counts of aggravated assault with a
deadly weapon for allegedly stabbing with a knife: Gabriela Ramirez (“Gabriela”), his wife;
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Eleazar Rios, Ramirez’s father-in-law; David Bonds, Ramirez’s son-in-law; and Raymond Deleon,
Ramirez’s brother-in-law. A jury found Ramirez guilty on two counts for the aggravated assaults
of Rios and Bonds and acquitted Ramirez on two counts for the alleged assaults of Gabriela and Deleon. Ramirez was sentenced to a term of two years’ confinement and now appeals. Ramirez contends in a single issue that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support his convictions.1 He argues that the “inconsistent verdicts” “shed light” on the
insufficiency of the evidence. According to Ramirez, the jury, in finding Ramirez guilty on two
counts and acquitting him on two other counts, must have believed either: (1) Ramirez did not use
a deadly weapon, or (2) he acted in self-defense. STANDARD OF REVIEW AND APPLICABLE LAW
Legal Sufficiency
The standard for reviewing sufficiency of the evidence in a criminal appeal is the Jackson
v. Virginia legal sufficiency standard. See Braughton v. State, 569 S.W.3d 592, 607–08 (Tex.
Crim. App. 2018); see also Brooks, 323 S.W.3d at 895 (citing Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307,
319 (1979)). Under this standard, we examine the evidence in the light most favorable to the jury’s
verdict to determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of
the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319; Brooks, 323 S.W.3d at 899. We
consider only whether or not the fact finder reached a rational conclusion. See Morgan v. State,
501 S.W.3d 84, 89 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016) (noting that the appellate court’s role “is restricted to
1 The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has held that there is no meaningful distinction between a legal sufficiency standard and a factual sufficiency standard and the “legal-sufficiency standard is the only standard that a reviewing court should apply in determining whether the evidence is sufficient to support each element of a criminal offense that the State is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.” Brooks v. State, 323 S.W.3d 893, 894–95 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010) (plurality op.); see also Howard v. State, 333 S.W.3d 137, 138 n.2 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011). Therefore, we review Ramirez’s legal and factual sufficiency arguments together.
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guarding against the rare occurrence when a fact finder does not act rationally”) (quoting Isassi v.
State, 330 S.W.3d 633, 638 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010)).
The legal sufficiency standard “recognizes the trier of fact’s role as the sole judge of the
weight and credibility of the evidence.” Adames v. State, 353 S.W.3d 854, 861 (Tex. Crim. App.
2011). We may not reweigh the evidence or substitute our judgment for that of the jury. Orellana
v. State, 381 S.W.3d 645, 653 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2012, pet. ref’d) (citing King v. State, 29
S.W.3d 556, 562 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000)). We also must give deference to the jury’s ability “to
draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts.” Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319. “Each
fact need not point directly and independently to the guilt of the appellant, as long as the cumulative
force of all the incriminating circumstances is sufficient to support the conviction.” Hooper v.
State, 214 S.W.3d 9, 13 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007) (citing Johnson v. State, 871 S.W.2d 183, 186
(Tex. Crim. App. 1993)). “Circumstantial evidence is as probative as direct evidence in
establishing the guilt of an actor, and circumstantial evidence alone can be sufficient to establish
guilt.” Id. (citing Guevara v. State, 152 S.W.3d 45, 49 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004)). Any
inconsistencies in the evidence must be resolved in favor of the jury’s verdict. Gonzales v. State,
330 S.W.3d 691, 694 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2010, no pet.) (citing Curry v. State, 30 S.W.3d
394, 406 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000)).
Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon
In order to convict Ramirez of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, the State had to
prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ramirez intentionally or knowingly committed an assault
and: (1) caused serious bodily injury to another, including the person’s spouse; or (2) used or
exhibited a deadly weapon during the commission of the assault. TEX. PENAL CODE ANN.
§ 22.02(a). A deadly weapon is defined in relevant part as “anything that in the manner of its use
or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.” Id. § 1.07(a)(17)(B). A knife
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can be a deadly weapon if the evidence shows that its use or intended use renders it capable of
causing death or serious bodily injury. See McCain v. State, 22 S.W.3d 497, 503 (Tex. Crim. App.
2000). Serious bodily injury is “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.” TEX. PENAL CODE ANN. § 1.07(a)(46).
Self-Defense
“A person is justified in using deadly force against another: (1) if the actor would be
justified in using force against the other under Section 9.31; and (2) when and to the degree the
actor reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary: (A) to protect the actor against
the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful deadly force . . . .” Id. § 9.32(a). Under Section 9.31,
“a person is justified in using force against another when and to the degree the actor reasonably
believes the force is immediately necessary to protect the actor against the other’s use or attempted
use of unlawful force.” Id. § 9.31(a). “Deadly force” is force “intended or known by the actor to
cause, or in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing, death or serious bodily
injury.” Id. § 9.01(3).
In considering the justifications of self-defense, the jury is not required to find that a victim
was actually using or attempting to use unlawful deadly force against a defendant. Hamel v. State,
916 S.W.2d 491, 493 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996). “A person has a right to defend himself against
apparent danger to the same extent as if the danger were real.” Id. The only requirement is that a
defendant reasonably believe he must act immediately, and he can have a reasonable belief that
force is immediately necessary even if the objective evidence shows the defendant was never in
any real danger. See id.
When a defendant produces some evidence raising the issue of self-defense, the State bears
the burden of persuasion to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s actions were not
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justified. Zuliani v. State, 97 S.W.3d 589, 594 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003); Saxton v. State, 804 S.W.2d
910, 913 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991) (en banc). The burden of persuasion does not require the
production of evidence, rather it only requires that the State prove its case beyond a reasonable
doubt. Saxton, 804 S.W.3d at 913. If the jury finds the defendant guilty, it has made an implicit
finding against any self-defense theory raised by the defendant. Id. at 914; Zuliani, 97 S.W.3d at
594. If a defendant challenges the legal sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury’s implicit
rejection of his claim of self-defense, “we look not to whether the State presented evidence which
refuted appellant’s self-defense testimony, but rather we determine whether after viewing all the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact . . . would have
found against appellant on the self-defense issue beyond a reasonable doubt.” Saxton, 804 S.W.2d
at 914; see Jackson, 443 U.S. at 318–19.
Inconsistent Verdicts
“Inconsistent verdicts in prosecutions based on the same evidence do not require a reversal
on the ground of legal insufficiency.” Moore v. State, No. 04-12-00490-CR, 2013 WL 3148650,
at *1 (Tex. App.—San Antonio June 19, 2013, pet. ref’d) (mem. op., not designated for
publication) (citing Dunn v. United States, 284 U.S. 390, 393–94 (1932)). “Inconsistent verdicts
do not necessarily imply that the jury convicted the defendant on insufficient evidence, but may
simply stem from the jury’s desire to be lenient or to execute its own brand of executive clemency.”
Thomas v. State, 352 S.W.3d 95, 101 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2011, pet. ref’d). “Even
where an inconsistent verdict might have been the result of compromise or mistake, the verdict
should not be upset by appellate speculation or inquiry into such matters.” Jackson v. State, 3
S.W.3d 58, 61–62 (Tex. App.—Dallas 1999, no pet.) (citing United States v. Powell, 469 U.S. 57,
64–67 (1984)).
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DISCUSSION Ramirez acknowledges that inconsistent verdicts are not barred by law. See Dunn, 284
U.S. at 393–94; Thomas, 352 S.W.3d at 101. He argues that the inconsistent verdicts “shed light”
on the insufficiency of the evidence as to his convictions for the aggravated assaults with a deadly
weapon of Rios and Bonds because the jury could only have reached its verdicts if it determined
either: (1) Ramirez did not use a deadly weapon, or (2) Ramirez acted in self-defense. We disagree.
We note first that Ramirez offered more than two theories at trial that could explain the
inconsistent verdicts. At closing, defense counsel specifically questioned whether the evidence
shows that Ramirez committed an assault against Gabriela. Defense counsel also questioned
whether the evidence sufficiently shows that a knife wounded Gabriela and Deleon. Unlike, with
Rios and Bonds, no witness testified to seeing Ramirez stab Gabriela or Deleon with a knife and
evidence adduced at trial supports inferences that Gabriela’s and Deleon’s injuries were caused by
falls, rather than knife wounds. Thus, because of these alternative theories, the not-guilty verdicts
as to Gabriela and Deleon do not necessarily suggest that Ramirez did not use a deadly weapon on
Rios and Bonds or that Ramirez acted in self-defense.
In any event, the evidence shows, as to Rios and Bonds, that Ramirez was seen with a
pocketknife on the afternoon of the party. Bonds testified that Ramirez used his knife when cutting
a string while putting up decorations. A family friend, Leobardo Quezada, testified that he saw
Ramirez use his knife to cut the string on a balloon. No witness testified that any other person at
the party had a knife. Quezada testified that during an altercation he saw Ramirez stab both Rios
and Bonds with a knife. Evidence was adduced that Rios was hospitalized for his wound for three
days, and Bonds was hospitalized for approximately a week. Photos of the wounds were admitted
into evidence, and a crime scene investigator testified that the wounds to Rios and Bonds were
consistent with stab wounds. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and
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deferring to the jury’s assessment of credibility, we hold the evidence was legally sufficient for
the jury to conclude that Ramirez stabbed Rios and Bonds with his pocketknife during an altercation.2
We also determine that the jury could have found against Ramirez on the self-defense issue
beyond a reasonable doubt. Several witnesses testified that a verbal dispute between Ramirez and
Rios escalated into a physical fight involving Ramirez, Rios, Bonds, Deleon, and several others.
Ramirez argues that the evidence shows that his assaultive conduct, if any, was made in self
defense. Ramirez also argues that Deleon placed Ramirez in a chokehold, which Ramirez could
have reasonably thought amounted to the use of deadly force against him.
At trial, several eyewitnesses presented accounts of the incident. Quezada testified that, at
the party, Ramirez spoke to his wife, Gabriela, in a strong tone of voice. Gabriela’s father, Rios,
asked Ramirez why he was speaking to Gabriela in that manner, and Ramirez asked in response
whether Rios wanted to fight. Rios stood up, and Quezada placed himself between Ramirez and
Rios. One of Ramirez’s adult daughters and Bonds moved toward the confrontation. According
to Quezada, nothing physical had happened up to this point. Deleon then approached Ramirez
from behind. Deleon grabbed Ramirez, a struggle ensued, and Ramirez took out his pocketknife.
According to Quezada, Ramirez stabbed Bonds and later stabbed Rios.
Gabriela testified that the incident began when Rios approached Ramirez, and the two
began arguing. Gabriela, her sisters, and Quezada then stepped between Ramirez and Rios to
separate them. According to Gabriela, the incident turned physical when one of her sisters, Ana
Deleon (“Ana”), tried to separate Ramirez from Rios. According to Gabriela, Ramirez hit or
shoved Ana. Deleon then came forward and tried to grab Ramirez, and Ramirez pushed Deleon.
2 Ramirez does not contest that the pocketknife could constitute a deadly weapon. See TEX. PENAL CODE ANN. § 22.02(a); McCain, 22 S.W.3d at 503.
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In Bond’s account, he heard Ramirez yell at Gabriela and saw Ramirez and Rios get into
an argument. Bonds then went toward Ramirez and Rios. Bonds testified that Ramirez and Rios
were pushing each other, and Ramirez threw a punch. Deleon then went to Ramirez, put a hand
on his shoulder, and told Ramirez to calm down. Ramirez pushed Deleon to the floor. Bonds tried
to separate Ramirez and Rios. Bonds then felt a “poke” under his left shoulder blade. Bonds
reached back, felt blood, and left the altercation.
In her account, Deleon’s wife, Ana, testified that Ramirez became upset and Rios asked
him, “What’s wrong with you?” Ana, Ana’s mother, and one of Ana’s sisters then tried to get
between the men. According to Ana, Ramirez threw the mother and Rios to the floor. Deleon
then came over, and Ramirez shoved Deleon.
Rios testified that he did not remember how things got physical between him and Ramirez.
Rios stated that no person other than Ana got between him and Ramirez.
Deleon testified that he heard his wife yell and then fall into a crowd. Deleon went toward
the fray. According to Deleon, he saw Ramirez coming out and tackled him because Deleon
assumed that only Ramirez would cause a problem.
The jury’s role was to resolve conflicts in the testimony, and we must presume the jury
resolved any conflicts in favor of the prosecution. See Jackson, 443 U.S. at 326. Here, the jury
was free to credit either Gabriela’s or Ana’s testimony that Ramirez was the first person to escalate
the verbal altercation into a physical fight. The jury was also free to credit Bonds’s testimony that
Deleon placed a hand on Ramirez’s shoulder and told Ramirez to calm down. The jury could have
rationally disbelieved Quezada’s testimony that Deleon grabbed Ramirez, or the jury could have
rationally resolved any conflicts in the testimony to determine that Deleon’s physical contact with
Ramirez did not amount to a chokehold capable of causing serious injury or death. Thus, the jury
could have rationally rejected Ramirez’s contention that his use of deadly force was justified to
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protect himself from the attempted use of unlawful deadly force by anyone else at the party. See
TEX. PENAL CODE ANN. § 9.32; see also Bundy v. State, 280 S.W.3d 425, 435 (Tex. App.—Fort
Worth 2009, pet. ref’d) (holding evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s rejection of the
defendant’s self-defense claim, where the evidence demonstrated that the victim attempted to
punch the defendant, who then stabbed the victim with a knife); Schiffert v. State, 257 S.W.3d 6,
14 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2008, pet. ref’d) (holding no reasonable jury could have found that
the defendant was justified in using deadly force against his victim, where the defendant provoked
the altercation, and where the victim struck another individual involved in the altercation with his
fists).
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdicts and deferring to the jury’s
assessment of credibility, we hold the evidence was legally sufficient to support Ramirez’s
convictions for the aggravated assaults with a deadly weapon of Rios and Bonds. See Jackson,
443 U.S. at 319; Braughton, 569 S.W.3d at 608.

Outcome: We affirm the trial court’s judgment.

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