Bennett v. State
In Bennett v. State, 235 S.W.3d 241 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007), appellant requested a general instruction on self-defense at trial and later complained on appeal that the trial court erred in not submitting an instruction on defense of a third person. Id. at 242.
The court of appeals had held that appellant's request to include an instruction on self-defense "as it relates to the case" was sufficient to place the trial court on notice of her complaint with respect to defense of a third person. Id.
The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the court of appeals's judgment, agreeing with the State's position that, because appellant's request for an instruction on self-defense failed to preserve error with respect to an instruction on defense of a third person, the trial court did not err in refusing to submit the latter instruction to the jury. Id. at 243.
In Bennett, the Court of Criminal Appeals reasoned that self-defense and defense of a third person are separate defenses enumerated in separate sections of the Texas Penal Code and that a request for the former does not by itself alert the trial court with respect to the latter. Id.
The court rejected appellant's contention that the trial court should have been aware of her complaint because defense counsel used the words "in this case" and because evidence at trial existed that would have supported the submission of an instruction on defense of a third person. Id.
The court reasoned that the law does not require a trial court to mull over all of the evidence introduced at trial in order to determine whether a defendant's request for a jury instruction means more than it says. Id. The court did not require "magic words," but it did require that the substance of the complaint be conveyed to the trial court. Id.
In Bennett, because appellant's challenge did nothing more than convey that she wanted an instruction on self-defense, the substance of the complaint on appeal--that an instruction on defense of a third person was required--was not preserved. Id.
Although Bennett failed to object or submit instructions on defense of third person and defense of property, Bennett argued that the trial judge should have submitted these instructions sua sponte because evidence was presented that would have supported the submission of instructions as to these defenses. Id.
However, Bennett further contended that the trial judge was aware of her complaint because her attorney had objected to the court's failure to include a justification defense instruction in the jury charge and also, had requested that the court include self-defense "as it relates to Bennett's case." Bennett v. State, No. 05-05-01420-CR, 2006 WL 1828107, *5 (Tex. App.--Dallas Jul. 05, 2006), rev'd on other grounds, 235 S.W.3d 241 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007).
Nevertheless, the Court reiterated that "defensive instructions must be requested in order to be considered applicable law of the case requiring submission to the jury." Id. at 243.
And notwithstanding Bennett's arguments that the trial judge should have been aware of her complaint because she objected to another separate defense or that "evidence at trial existed that would have supported the submission of an instruction" as to these defenses, the Court held that a trial court has no duty to sua sponte instruct the jury on unrequested defensive issues. Id.
Therefore, the Court found that because Bennett had failed to place the trial judge on notice that she wanted an instruction on defense of a third person, the trial judge did not err in failing to submit such an instruction. Id.