Can an Appeal Overturn This Guilty Verdict?
In one of the biggest criminal cases of 2019, Amber Guyger was recently convicted of murder for shooting Botham Jean when she accidentally entered his apartment earlier this year. Indicted for murder and put to trial in Dallas, Ms. Guyger was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in jail. Now, her attorneys have filed a notification that she may appeal. In a case like this, will a second opinion make a big difference? Goza & Carreras, Attorneys at Law breaks down Ms. Guyger’s defenses and the potential reasons her team may be asking for a new trial.
How Did Amber Guyger Defend Her Actions?
There was no doubt coming into the trial that Ms. Guyger was the one who fired on Botham Jean, or that the incident took place in his apartment. Neither did circumstances suggest she was guilty of premeditated murder. Ms. Guyger admitted to shooting Mr. Jean using deadly force, but pled not guilty to the murder charges brought by the grand jury. Here are the arguments Ms. Guyger’s lawyers presented in court to protect her.
Mistakes of Fact
The reason Ms. Guyger entered Mr. Jean’s apartment was, according to her, because she had accidentally parked on the wrong floor of the apartment complex parking garage. Other residents reported making the same mistake before, and after a long 13½ hour shift, Guyger claimed her tiredness caused the error that ended her at Jean’s door instead of her own. Because she believed she was entering her own apartment, her lawyers claimed, she thought Jean was a burglar and acted in self-defense.
Texas’ Castle Doctrine
Stand Your Ground laws provide protection for those accused of injuring or killing someone to protect themselves or their property. Ms. Guyger argued that, as she believed Mr. Jean was in her apartment, she acted reasonably to protect her space. She had more trouble addressing legal provisions surrounding the use of deadly force. The “Castle Doctrine” states that deadly force may only be used when immediately necessary to prevent a crime or the criminal’s escape, and when the shooter believes that it is the only way to keep their property safe. The prosecution argued that Ms. Guyger was not on her property so could not use this law as a defense, but the judge allowed the argument in court due to Guyger’s confusion.
Stress and Inattentional Blindness
A large part of the case hinged on whether Ms. Guyger could reasonably believe she was entering her own apartment. A Texas Ranger investigating the case pointed out that the shock of finding someone else in what she assumed to be her space could result in tunnel vision and short-term memory loss. This “inattentional blindness” does exist, according to some psychologists, but it’s impossible to prove what was or wasn’t going on in Ms. Guyger’s mind at the time of the confrontation.
Understanding the Burden of Proof
Despite the strong opinions that emerged on both sides of the Botham Jean shooting when the story hit the news, it was up to the state to demonstrate that Ms. Guyger had committed a murder by shooting Botham Jean. In order to get a guilty verdict, they had to prove:
- Ms. Guyger’s confusion about her location was unfounded or implausible
- Ms. Guyger’s reaction to what she assumed was a household intrusion was not appropriate
- Ms. Guyger did not attempt to defuse the situation or respond with non-lethal force before shooting to kill
The Guilty Verdict
To refute Ms. Guyger’s claims, the state argued both that she should have known where she was and that her claims of self-defense did not ring true. They pointed to evidence such as the bright red rug outside Mr. Jean’s door to refute the claims of inattentional blindness. To her claims that she was acting in self-defense, the prosecution emphasized that because Ms. Guyger heard the supposed intruder from outside, through a closed door, and decided to enter rather than calling law enforcement, she was the aggressor of the incident. They also argued that Ms. Guyger’s choice to use deadly force was not protected under Stand Your Ground laws, which specifically state that such a defense can only be used when immediately necessary, and when the shooter has no other options.
The jury sided with the state, finding Ms. Guyger guilty of murder. She has been sentenced to 10 years in jail and will be eligible for parole in 2024.
The Possibility of Another Outcome
To meet Texas’ legal requirements, Ms. Guyger’s defense team filed a notice of appeal barely more than a week after her sentencing. This action does not mean she will challenge the court’s decision, but it leaves the possibility open.
Though the filing did not lay out the reasons Ms. Guyger wishes to appeal, her team’s previous actions suggest they may challenge the conviction on procedural grounds. Due to the heavy news coverage of Ms. Guyger’s case, her attorneys argued that she could not be guaranteed a fair trial in Dallas, so the case should be moved to another venue. After the trial started, they accused Dallas DA John Creuzot of violating a gag order with a press conference. Neither of their arguments were accepted as a reason to move the trial.
A New Angle on the Evidence
One of the key witnesses for the prosecution, Joshua Brown, testified that as Mr. Jean’s neighbor he heard what happened the night of the shooting and Ms. Guyger did not, to his knowledge, give Jean any commands to defuse the situation before shooting. However, Mr. Brown was murdered a few days after the trial in what police are calling a drug deal gone wrong. In the event of a retrial, the prosecution will not have his firsthand testimony, and the defense may question his reliability as a known drug dealer. Without Brown as a witness, Guyger’s argument that she acted in self-defense may be harder to refute.
For Better or Worse
On Mr. Jean’s side, Judge Tammy Kemp has been accused of judicial misconduct for hugging Ms. Guyger after the trial and giving her a Bible to take to jail. Accused of displaying bias and failing to separate church and state, Judge Kemp has faced suggestions she should recuse herself from any appeals or other related legal processes. She has not issued a response.
Should Ms. Guyger go through with the appeal, a re-trial might not turn out in her favor. Our state’s maximum sentence for murder is 99 years, and the prosecution recommended a sentence of longer than the 10 years she was awarded. In Texas, jurors are the ones to sentence convicted criminals. A new group could level a harsher punishment if they saw fit.
Because of this, perhaps the team will decide it is safer for Ms. Guyger to accept her original sentence and await her parole eligibility in five years. If not, further filings by her legal team will show just what she plans to challenge.
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