Sunday, May 18, 2008

Dallas court identifies "deadly weapon" that can't kill you

According to the Center for Disease Control, reported The New York Times ("Prison for man with HIV who spit on police officer," May 16), "Although there have been rare cases of transmission through severe bites, 'contact with saliva, tears or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of H.I.V..'”

Even so, a homeless man was sentenced to 35 years in prison in Dallas for "harassing a public servant with a deadly weapon: his saliva." What's more, "Because of the deadly weapon finding, the man, Willie Campbell, 42, of Dallas, will not be eligible for parole until he has served half his sentence."

So to flesh out the logic, you can't contract HIV from spit, but spit is a deadly weapon because it might transmit HIV? Huh? I'm amazed Dallas DA Craig Watkins' office pursued that line of argument, and more amazed still that a judge bought into it.

According to Chapter 22.05 of the penal code, an offender engages in "deadly conduct" if "he recklessly engages in conduct that places another in imminent danger of serious bodily injury." So if the Center for Disease Control says saliva "has never been shown to result in transmission of H.I.V.,” where, exactly, is the "imminent threat of serious bodily injury"?

Mr. Campbell sounds like a seriously disturbed person, a homeless alcoholic and possibly mentally ill to boot, to judge by his screaming outbursts in the courtroom." Even so, although spitting at an officer was both obnoxious and assaultive, on its face the act doesn't seem to meet the definition of "deadly conduct."

In any event, unless some appellate court decides differently, add "spit" to the list of bizarre items deemed deadly weapons under Texas' statute.

MORE: From Simple Justice.


Anonymous said...

So, no one has learned a thing about diseases or what constitutes a deadly weapon yet!! I am amazed the DA in Dallas even took this to court and the Judge sentenced him. This is the most absurd thing I have heard in quite sometime.

I am a profession medical person and people, you cannot catch HIV if you get spit upon. This should make the DA somewhat ashamed of himself for even considering this. He can look the information up in the transmission of HIV and find the only way you can get it is through unprotected sex, someone bites you and breaks the skin, "hello DA", or from someone who has this disease gets blood on you. Wonder why all policemen and EMTs wear gloves before they touch a person who is injured, guess.

This man needs mental health care and not prison. There are too many in prison now who are mentally ill who need help, not confinement. This only adds to the problem with overcrowding we already have and the money wasted in the wrong way.

Legislators, put back the funds for State Mental Hospitals and help people so those who do not know what is right and what is wrong won't be tempted to do what the DA in Dallas did. I had always admired his judgement, but now I am beginning to wonder about him.

The Local Crank said...

I seem to recall a Dallas Court of Appeals case (at home, so I don't have the cite) that upheld classifying hands and feet as "deadly weapons," which, even if you aren't Chuck Norris, would have the effect of pretty much eliminating misdemeanor assault.

Michael said...

I was enjoying looking at the TDCAA website until I realized why they were posting, so I'll post this question here.

I swear there was a Houston (1st or 14th) appellate decision upholding the trial court's (or jury's) finding that a murder victim's black panties were a deadly weapon since the defendant used them to smother her. Now, unlike many things on the TDCAA list, the defendant in this case meant to use panties to murder. Does that mean they're a deadly weapon? I don't know. My point is I was really hoping for more caselaw guidance on this important holding. Are red panties deadly? White? Do they have to be granny panties? What about thongs (may not be able to smother, but perhaps strangulation)?

Or, could we just go back to common sense about what a deadly weapon is? Apparently not in Dallas.

Anonymous said...

Homeless people generally cannot afford representation in court matters. Had this man been working or housed somewhere permenantly, I doubt very much if it would have got to court.

Unknown said...

But..but...isn't this the DA that you are so proud of for being soft on criminals? My, my.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

David, to my knowledge the only people Watkins has been "soft" on are people found innocent through DNA testing.

Would you prefer I failed to criticize Watkins because I agree with his actions elsewhere? What, exactly, is your point?

Michael said...

The relevant dichotomy for a DA's attitude on crime is not tough or soft, but smart or stupid. Watkins has taken possession of the slogan "Smart on crime", if he didn't invent it in the first place. Those typical "tough on crime" DAs -- like the one north of Austin whose office just locked up a 3.5 gram meth seller for 35 years -- are the ones who are "tough" on crime. And stupid.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Charles from Tulia says?

The DA in Jena, LA charged the Jena 6 (or some of them at least) with attempted murder because he deemed their tennis shoes as deadly weapons. Not quite sure how this all turned out. In fact, I don't think it has turned out yet. But interesting what DAs can do if they so desire.

Anonymous said...

David--I think it says that Grits isn't just a liberal innocence project fanboy of Watkins' if he can both agree and disagree on certain issues. For Grits to be guilty of the type of blind loyalty you accuse him of he would have to agree with Watkins on everything, no matter what.

Anywhooo, I think this should definitely be a form of aggravated assault. Deadly weapon? Maybe. Intent to creat severe emotional distress during the commission of an assault? Yep.

Proven or not, people with HIV should be held to a higher standard when it comes to the exchange of bodily fluids. Kind of like convicting the wrong guy--if you're wrong even once, and someone gets killed by it, you didn't do enough.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Rage, I totally agree it was an assault, but don't all assaults produce "emotional distress"? If science says spit doesn't transmit the disease, I just don't see a deadly weapon finding.

If I threaten to beat you to death with a wet noodle, it doesn't make the noodle deadly because you were distressed by the claim. That the ignorance of someone who believes wet noodles can kill could generate unnecessary distress is unfortunate, but it doesn't make macaroni "deadly."

There's another aspect to this: if the guy is a homeless, possibly mentally ill alcoholic, there's a good chance there were intervention chances available before now. We're seeing the end of a catastrophic storyline here, not the whole thing.

That said, I agreed in the post the behavior was "obnoxious and assaultive," and worthy of prosecution. Just not as "deadly conduct."

Anonymous said...

"There's another aspect to this: if the guy is a homeless, possibly mentally ill alcoholic, there's a good chance there were intervention chances available before now. We're seeing the end of a catastrophic storyline here, not the whole thing."

And if he has been offered these chances in the past and not made use of them....what then? At what point,in your opinion, does a person have to face the consequences of his actions and choices? Or do we continue to coddle people and insulate them from the consequences of their actions ad nauseum?

I will agree with you that the charges did not fit this crime....but if I recall correctly the def in this case has an extensive history of assaulting people...perhaps his history played a part in his sentencing.

As a police officer I deal with mentally disturbed people on an almost daily basis....many of whom know they should be taking meds to "normalize" them but for one reason or another refuse to take their meds. At some point they need to be held responsible for their actions when they refuse to take those meds.

Anonymous said...

What's the fuss,he has a home to go to,and three meals a day.And I have never read anything that said you can not get HIV from spit.It is slim but the chance is there.

Anonymous said...

Why is it all you people say he has mental problems,not everbody has mental problems.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It's odd, olnacl, you appear to be literate enough to read a blog post but then you write "And if he has been offered these chances in the past and not made use of them....what then?," which clearly ignores the multiple points in the post and comments I said this behavior should be prosecuted. Are you being intentionally obtuse, or is something wrong with you? A reading comprehension problem? Dyslexia, perhaps? Why can't you understand the words under your nose?

Don't neglect this problem, olnacl. Reading is fundamental. ;)

To anon who writes, "I have never read anything that said you can not get HIV from spit" - that may be because you've never looked it up. The Centers for Disease Control says it's never happened once. What evidence do you have to say they're wrong? As for his mental state, you must not have read the articles. The guy behaved irrationally both upon arrest and in court, is what suggests he has mental problems.

Michael said...

olnacl, criminal law is designed to address the consequences of persons' conscious decisions, not the result of their actions. Criminal law is a particularly inappropriate way to deal with mental illness. It's society's choice because it is supposedly both cheap and safe. In the long run, it is neither. But that's okay, because it also isn't just.

Anon 3:54, I've never read anything that says I can't get bubonic plague by dancing with a rhinoceros; shall I assume that is true? The burden of proof in a criminal case is on the state. No defendant is obligated to prove that it's impossible to get HIV from spit; the Government has to prove that it's possible -- beyond a reasonable doubt.

Anon 3:59, I have no idea what you're saying.

Anonymous said...

Do you always feel the need to be insulting when an officer makes a post requesting clarification on your stances? Yes I can read and comprehend what I have read...however,I was taking this incident as a chance to have a chat about mental health consumers, crimes they commit, and appropriate punishment.

Instead I am meant with insults and sarcasm. I guess a civil discussion was too much to ask.

But hey...if those kind of responses make you feel better about be it.

Michael said...

grits, I'm with olnacl on this. I read your post and counted eight ad hominem attacks, without meeting the substance of his post. I clearly disagreed with him, but didn't see the need to attack him. Calling olnacl names isn't persuasive.

Don't neglect this problem, grits. Civil discourse is fundamental.

Anonymous said...

Now...onto civil discourse:

"olnacl, criminal law is designed to address the consequences of persons' conscious decisions, not the result of their actions. Criminal law is a particularly inappropriate way to deal with mental illness. It's society's choice because it is supposedly both cheap and safe. In the long run, it is neither. But that's okay, because it also isn't just."

OK...I can see your point, now what do you recommend that society should do with the mental health consumer who knows they should be on meds, has the meds provided to them (via medicaid or other programs), refuses to take them and because of this choice becomes violent....not just once but multiple times throughout their lives?

Michael said...

That's a good question, and I'm sorry I don't have a good answer. One thing I do think is that crime should be proportional to the mens rea, rather than the actus.

The Local Crank said...

From a memorandum opinion out of the 1st Court of Appeals:

"Appellant argues that there is no evidence to show that his hands were a deadly weapon. Appellant argues that “[s]imply because the person is struck with a hand in the face does not make a hand a deadly weapon.” We agree that hands are not deadly weapons per se, but they can become deadly weapons in the manner of their use, depending upon the evidence. Turner v. State, 664 S.W.2d 86, 89-90 (Tex. Crim. App. 1983); Judd v. State, 923 S.W.2d 135, 140 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 1996, pet. ref’d); Cooper v. State, 773 S.W.2d 749, 750 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 1989, no pet.). When the State alleges the use of a deadly weapon that is not deadly per se, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the weapon alleged was used in a manner capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. See Hill v. State, 913 S.W.2d 581, 584 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996); Hester v. State, 909 S.W.2d 174, 179 (Tex. App.—Dallas 1995, no pet.). However, the State need not show that the hands actually caused serious bodily injury, so long as it shows that the hands, in the manner used, were capable of causing serious bodily injury. See Brooks v. State, 900 S.W.2d 468, 472 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 1995, no pet.); Clark v. State, 886 S.W.2d 844, 845 (Tex. App.—Eastland 1994, no pet.); Gillum v. State, 888 S.W.2d 281, 288 (Tex. App.—El Paso 1994, pet. ref’d)."

So, essentially, if you use your hands in a way that MIGHT cause death or serious bodily injury (such as forming a fist?), your hand is a deadly weapon.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Fine, Michael, y'all caught me in a non-civil mood. I'm tired of answering disingenuous questions by people who don't really want an answer, only to score points.

The "once you've tried everything else what do you do" mantra is just BS when Dallas and Texas are NOT trying front end preventive work. So why answer a hypothetical that doesn't exist in the world?

What's more, I never said the person shouldn't be held accountable, so I feel no compulsion to explain WHY he shouldn't. The fact that olnacl wants to project opinions s/he doesn't like upon me does not obligate me to defend them. I'm happy to defend what I wrote, but prefer not to feed trolls.

The answer to your original question, olnacl, is this is a fine moment to hold the guy accountable. No one said he shouldn't be except in your other worldly hypothetical. I only argued the deadly weapon ruling was BS, a subject your comment, naturally, fails to address.

Michael said...

Found the black panties case, but they were really blue (that's why it took so long to track down). Strictly speaking, the defendant's hands AND the decedent's panties, put together, made a deadly weapon. Morales v. State, 792 S.W.2d 789 (Tex. App. -- Houston [1st Dist.] 1990, no pet.)

Glad I got that nailed down.

Anonymous said...

1) I was not being disengenous or a troll...I seriously wanted an answer to how you think the mental health consumer should be handled.

2) Perhaps I am not the one who needs the reading comprehension lessons. From my first post on this subject: "I will agree with you that the charges did not fit this crime...".

So yes, I did respond to your ideas on spit as a deadly weapon and in fact agreed with you on that subject. I guess you were to busy composing your response to my supposed "trollness" to actually read/comprehend what I wrote.

As for "projecting" ideas/opinions I would say that your assumption of my motives would be a classic example of this....I was hoping for a dialog on this subject but apparently that is too much to ask on your site.

Just because Texas/Dallas is not doing anything at this time is not a valid reason to not answer a question....after all a solution has to start somewhere...why not here?

Besides I really don't have any ideas on what the solution could/should be so I figured some folks here might have some ideas....was I wrong?

Unknown said...

If science says spit doesn't transmit the disease, I just don't see a deadly weapon finding.

Sheesh, Gritsy, you need to read again. Science has said that no case has been documented that says it can but yes, there is a remote possibility that it could. The assailant (you really don't want to call this clown that, do you?) intended for his spit to produce the HIV virus in the victim.

Go ahead, keep on defending these criminals.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

First, you're right, David. Science only tells us the example has never happened in observed history despite the fact that we know more about HIV spreads than most diseases. The CDC says there's no evidence transmitted that way. Never. Happened. Once. Are they defending criminals?

And olnacl, commenters like David are why I assumed you were disingenuous. Your question assumes I'm saying mental health consumers shouldn't be held accountable, and I simply didn't say that. On the off chance you're not, the answer is individual to each person, their condition and the offenses they've committed and can't be answered hypothetically. I guess I assumed that was obvious to someone who works in the field.

However, if Dallas and Texas are doing nothing, that IS a reason not to debate your hypothetical. Why debate what happens when we've done all we can, when right now we're not doing anything? Let's see what happens when we try to help mental health consumers before identifying up front at what point it's okay to give up on them and lock them away for decades.

My answer is, try doing something, anything preventive first, then we can debate when it's okay to give up.

Michael said...

"Science says it's never happened but there's a remote chance it could."

That quote's not in the original post, and I can't find it in the original article. In fact, I can't find it anywhere. Saliva is an inhibitor of HIV (or at least HIV-1). HIV carriers have low levels of the virus in their saliva. The existence of HIV infections by kissing is low to nonexistent. And of the 500,000+ cases of HIV reported to the Center for Disease Control, none has been caused by spitting. If we ever get the first victim, that will still translate into a 1 in half-a-million shot. Yet you think a mentally ill man should be thrown in jail for 25 years for THINKING that he can kill with his spit?

Actually, I retract that question. First, I'm calling BS on your science. What's your support?

Anonymous said...

Just because something is obvious to me does not make it obvious to others....has I have learned from many trials over the years.

Don't lump all posters in the same and I will probably disagree on many issues but if I ask a question I am serious in wanting an answer. I am always interested in finding out what other people think.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Fair enough, olnacl, sorry you caught me in a grumpy mood.

Anonymous said...

Well, I am not in a grumpy mood. I am the person who wrote the first article. CDC has cultured every liquid that comes from a body and found salavia cannot be a growing area for HIV. Salvia is not in the mouth long enough to allow HIV to grow.

This case should be taken back to court and this man, who is definitely mentally ill did the only thing he could think to do, in his sick mind to make the officer leave him alone. Mental illness is a physical disease and where does it say he was on any medications. Most mentally ill street people are never treated or diagnosed, so how would one take medications if he was never given any or diagnosed with a disease.

I would not venture to even guess which of the mental diseaes this man has, but Dallas DA and the people on the jury and the Judge should all be held accountable for horrible injustice to a very ill man.

Anonymous said...

Grits, if you threaten to beat me with a wet noodle, I'll promise to hit that PayPal button a few extra times.

If you have HIV and spit on me, it's much more of a concern to me. To the extent that I would be concerned for my life.

Anonymous said...

No one can cite a medical article that says "spit" (which may or may not be composed solely of salivia, but may contain BLOOD, MUCUS, etc) cannot cause HIV if spat in an mucus membrane such as an eye or nostril or mouth.

C'mon folks, no one wants anyone elses bodily fluids on them or in them, absent permission. Particularly not an HIV patient's fluids.

Chances are this loser has some sort of chronic disease (or multiple ones) in addition to his HIV, like a respiratory disease or infection or even bad dental hygine. Something that might throw a little blood in the spit that is striking the open mucus membrane of the eye, and possibly entering the mouth or nose.

The posters that are "amazed" and "disappointed" really must never have lived in the real world. I want ya'll to line right up for this poor, disenfranchised criminal to spit in your face.

Anonymous said...


Mr. Henrichs added that his client had been indicted under a habitual-offender statute that increased the penalty in his case to a minimum of 25 years in prison, because he had been convicted of attacking two other officers in a similar manner and biting two inmates, as well as more than two dozen other offenses.

“You can see why we thought that we needed to get this guy off the streets,” said Jenni Morse, who prosecuted the current case.


None of the three officers attacked by Mr. Campbell contracted H.I.V., Ms. Morse said.


Mr. Campbell waived his right to appeal and is awaiting transfer from the Dallas jail to prison.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, H.I.V. is primarily spread through sexual contact or the exchange of blood. Although there have been rare cases of transmission through severe bites, “contact with saliva, tears or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of H.I.V.,” the agency reports.






Gritsforbreakfast said...

So do you feel better, 9:20?

Now that you have that out of your system, I have repeatedly said he should be prosecuted for the assault, so what exactly is your point? He gets 25 years anyway as a habitual offender according to the portion you quoted. Please explain why are you upset?

Typing in all caps doesn't change the science behind the transmission of HIV. Here's how the left-leaning, cop hating Wall Street Journal Law blog put it: "Should the saliva of an H.I.V.-positive person be considered a deadly weapon? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says no, but a Dallas jury has said yes."

A lot more people read them than me. Why don't you go troll over at their shop?

Unknown said...

Well, Michael,

I see you are up to your old tricks of trying to obfuscate the facts.

Let's try again.

The HIV virus is present in saliva, as you have correctly stated.

This from the CDC:

"Saliva, Tears, and Sweat

HIV has been found in saliva and tears in very low quantities from some AIDS patients. It is important to understand that finding a small amount of HIV in a body fluid does not necessarily mean that HIV can be transmitted by that body fluid. HIV has not been recovered from the sweat of HIV-infected persons. Contact with saliva, tears, or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV."

Okay, so, you've admitted it is present. But what about the risk?

"Dr. R. Doug Hardy, an infectious disease specialist at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Children's Medical Center Dallas, also said that fluids in people's eyes and mouths have very low risk of transmitting HIV. The higher risk is for Hepatitis B and C and syphilis, he said."

So Michael, I really don't have a problem with this verdict. A lifetime punk knows he is infected with the HIV virus and believes he can infect others, which is also scientifically correct, then spits in a Police Officers face, in the hopes of infecting him, thus requiring the Police Officer to undergo years of testing to determine whether or not he has been infected.

Cry me a friggin' river already.

Anonymous said...

"Deadly weapon" is in the eyes of the victim.

Let me put this another way....

If you are the victim of a crime, and the assailant is using a weapone which you reasonably believe my kill you then you are justified in using deadly force to defend yourself. The assailant has created a deadly situation. That the weapon may not actually kill you is irrelevant.

The onus of determining the apparant dangerousness of a weapon is on the bad guy, not on the unsuspecting victim.

Anonymous said...

An unloaded gun is a deadly weapon. You are justified in using deadly force to defend yourself from an assailant wielding an unloaded gun. The actual dangerousness is not germaine.

Michael said...

Several new comments since I went to watch a video, but they're all pretty much the same, and have been addressed before. Most are anonymous, of which some are shouters, some are logically flawed, and some call us a "moron" while misspelling "its". Time for me to unsubscribe -- unless someone wants to send me the story about the policeman who got HIV because he was spit on, becoming the 1 in 500,000 to contract the disease with that transmission fluid. Otherwise, keep your anonymous opinions to yourselves and get back to the Dukes of Hazzard complete DVDs.

W W Woodward said...

Texas Penal Code: § 1.07. DEFINITIONS. (a) In this code:

(17) "Deadly weapon" means:

(A) a firearm or anything manifestly designed, made, or adapted for the purpose of inflicting death or serious bodily injury; or

(B) anything that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.

From the Penal Code definition we see that a firearm, or any item made specifically for the purpose of causing death or serious bodily injury is always a deadly weapon. Any other item can be determined to be a deadly weapon (by the court/jury) if the intent of the wielder is to use the item in a manner that would be capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. Yes, XXX, panties, of whatever colour is preferred by the assailant, depending upon their intended use could be determined to be a deadly weapon. In the early ‘70s a man was convicted (in Dallas) of using toilet paper as a deadly weapon – he stuffed enough down a prostitute’s throat to cause her to suffocate.


(a) A person commits an offense if, with the intent to assault, harass, or alarm, the
2) causes another person the actor knows to be a public servant to contact the blood, seminal fluid, vaginal fluid, saliva, urine, or feces of the actor, any other person, or an animal while the public servant is lawfully discharging an official duty or in retaliation or on account of an exercise of the public servant's official power or performance of an official duty.

(b) An offense under this section is a felony of the third degree.

This is the specific law covering the action of spitting on a police officer and should have been the charge levied against the person in question. I don’t know how they’re doing thing these days but I was taught to file the most applicable charge.

Anonymous said...

"If you are the victim of a crime, and the assailant is using a weapone which you reasonably believe my kill you then you are justified in using deadly force to defend yourself. The assailant has created a deadly situation. That the weapon may not actually kill you is irrelevant."

Not true. A deadly weapon is anything that, in the manner of its use, is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury. So if a DA attacks you with his ham sandwich by shoving it down your throat, even a ham sandwich can be a dealy weapon.

However, this lends to Grits' argument that if the science shows that HIV cannot be transmitted this way then it doesn't matter what the victim thinks, saliva isn't likely to cause death or injury, so it could be just an assault, but aggravated due to his repeat status.

Anonymous said...

My first time at this site. Grits, I'm pretty shocked by your response to olnacl. Instead of blaming it on a grumpy mood... which begs many questions considering the topics you post about... you should have simply apologized without an excuse. Actually, you shouldn't have responded as you did in any 'mood.'

Is that how you treat people in person when you disagree or don't like what they say?

I'm sorry I came here from the site that referred me. This will be the one and only comment I leave. I felt it needed to be said.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:31, sorry you won't be commenting further, and that you deemed my apology to olnacl insufficient. But it's a big ol' blogosphere. Perhaps you'll find what you're looking for elsewhere.

That goes for anybody else who doesn't like what they read here, particularly those without the cojones to properly identify themselves when making vitriolic statements. Let me suggest you offer your opinions here instead. It's one thing to disagree, but a few of you go far beyond disagreement. I deleted two comments here first thing this morning and one on another string that included full paragraphs of juvenile name calling with no substantive argument at all, one of them overtly obscene. Nothing obligates me to tolerate that, nor will I. Thanks,

Anonymous said...

You go Grits!And I never agree with you.

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