Brown v. State (2003)

In Brown v. State, 122 S.W.3d 794 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003), the trial court instructed, in its original charge to the jury, that "intent or knowledge may be inferred by acts done or words spoken." Id. Despite the legal accuracy of the instruction, the court of criminal appeals held that it improperly "singles out a specific type of evidence and tells the jury that it may infer an element of the crime" from that evidence. Id. at 800-01. The error, the court explained, "lies in instructing the jury that they may apply such an inference." Id. at 800 (quoting Browning v. State, 720 S.W.2d 504, 507 (Tex. Crim. App. 1986)). This is because the inference is "a judicial review device" or "a common-sense tool for a trial judge" used to gauge evidentiary sufficiency, "not an explicit legal tool for the jury." Id. at 802-03. The court thus concluded that, although a "close call," the trial court erred because it "focused the jury's attention on the type of evidence that may support a finding of criminal intent." Id. at 802. In Brown v. State, the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the instruction "was mild, neutral, and an obvious common-sense proposition," and did nothing more than what the parties themselves did at trial, i.e., focus on whether appellant's acts and words demonstrated his intent to kill. Id. The court concluded the instruction was improper because the instruction is simply unnecessary and fails to clarify the law for the jury. It is not a statutory presumption, but it is a judicial review device for assessing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a jury's finding of culpable intent. It is a common-sense tool for a trial judge to use in gauging the sufficiency of the evidence at a motion for directed verdict or motion for new trial and for sufficiency review by appellate courts, but it is not an explicit tool for the jury. (Id. at 802-03.)