Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Reverses Appellate Court, Affirming Defendant’s Conviction for Failing to Provide Medical Care to Her Child

In a recent Texas criminal case, the State petitioned the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas after a ruling from the Eleventh Court of Appeals found that the Appellant in a criminal case was entitled to a concurrent causation jury instruction, reversing in part a judgment by the trial court. The Appellant was convicted by a jury and sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment under Texas Penal Code § 22.04 for recklessly, by omission, causing serious bodily injury to her child and failing to protect her child from being struck against a hard surface by her husband and subsequently failing to provide medical care.

Facts of the Case

On June 29, 2013, the Appellant was in the kitchen of her family home in Denver City, Texas, when her husband began to choke and shout expletives at their youngest child. The couple’s older daughter testified that the Appellant subsequently entered the room and instructed her husband to “stop hurting the baby.” Later that night, the Appellant noticed that the youngest child was experiencing seizure-like symptoms and called her mother-in-law, who was a retired nurse, to ask for advice. The mother-in-law instructed the Appellant to give the youngest child a Tylenol and continue monitoring her. The next day, the child began to exhibit seizure-like symptoms again, so the couple decided to bring her to Covenant Hospital in Lubbock instead of the local hospital in Denver City. While the Appellant originally told investigators that they drove nearly an hour to Lubbock because they did not trust the doctors in Denver City, later testimony revealed the decision was made to avoid Child Protective Services (CPS).

At the hospital, it became apparent that the child’s injuries had resulted from non-accidental abuse, and the staff contacted CPS and the Lubbock Police Department to coordinate an investigation. Based on the police investigation and medical findings regarding the injury, both the parents were arrested and charged under Texas Penal Code § 22.04. At trial, the Appellant was convicted and sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment. On direct appeal, she raised two grounds for review: (1) the trial court erred when it refused to instruct the jury on concurrent causation, and (2) the evidence at trial was legally insufficient to support a conviction under § 22.04 of the Texas Penal Code. The appellate court sustained the Appellant’s first issue, reversing the judgment of the trial court. On the second issue, the appellate court ruled that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient, to find both Appellant’s omissions caused serious bodily injury to the child beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Appeal

Following the appeal to the appellate court, the State petitioned the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, arguing that concurrent causation is wholly inapplicable to omission offenses under § 22.04 or otherwise is not raised by the facts of this case. The State claimed that a concurrent causation instruction if offered in omission cases, would operate to absolve the Appellant of liability by virtue of the mere fact that her crime was an omission rather than an act. In response, the Appellant argued that omission offenses are appropriately addressed by § 6.04 on concurrent causation, as it prevents a criminal defendant from facing liability where there are several actors and the defendant’s omissions are clearly insufficient to result in the harm. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas found that because the Appellant did not point to evidence relevant to a concurrent-causation instruction, and instead argued the alternative cause, the judgment of the court of appeals is overturned, affirming the trial court judgment.

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