The May 24 orders and May 31 orders were fairly quiet, with now grants and just one opinion issued. The opinion was in IN THE MATTER OF L.D.C., A CHILD, No. 12-0032 , a juvenile-justice case that actually might have some application to normal civil litigation.

Harmless error in a jury charges that lumps together factual theories that should have been separate

The crime here was firing an AK-47. The defendant in this case and a friend were part of a “street party” near a middle school. The defendant admitted he fired a few shots “in the air.” That sound attracted the police, at which point the story is more confused:

[A police office] heard the shots and drove up as L.D.C. and a friend, T.J., were running through a field behind the school. When [the officer] yelled “police” and ordered them to stop, one of the two turned and fired toward him and the row of houses behind him. [The officer] and T.J. testified it was L.D.C.; L.D.C. testified it was T.J.

The jury charge in L.D.C.’s case was written disjunctively, in a way that would have allowed a conviction even if the twelve jurors disagreed about whether L.D.C. had pulled the trigger in the second incident, the first, or both.

The Texas Supreme Court ultimately held that this was harmless error because it would have taken an “irrational” juror to disbelieve both L.D.C.’s admission that he fired the first set of shots at the street party and his denial that he fired at the officer (emphasizing those words below):

For the jury to have agreed that L.D.C. engaged in deadly conduct either during the party or in the field, but not to have agreed that it occurred at one place or both, at least one juror would have had to: disbelieve both L.D.C.’s denial that he shot in the field and his admission that he shot during the party; or believe that he shot at either vehicles or habitations, but not both; or believe that L.D.C. consciously disregarded the possible presence of occupants in either the surrounding vehicles or the surrounding habitations, but not both; or have been irrational.

Applying the normal civil standard for harmless error, the Court held “we will not base reversible error on the possibility that a juror might act irrationally, which a correct instruction cannot prevent.”