Assault is considered a violent crime, but the severity of what someone is charged with depends on the circumstances surrounding an incident.
Generally speaking, there are two classes of Texas assault charges – simple assault and aggravated assault. Crimes range from misdemeanor charges to felony sentencing.
Because of the vast difference in penalties associated with an aggravated assault conviction, it is vital to have a defense strategy that is tailored to your specific case.
Let’s take a look at how the law defines these two classes of assault, and how your defense strategy might change when assault charges are aggravated.
Simple Assault in Texas
A simple assault is charged when a person knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally causes injury to someone else or they threaten to do so. Note that physical contact does not need to be made in order for law enforcement to charge someone with assault.
So what constitutes physical contact? Any form of unwanted touching. This includes every instance an alleged victim feels personal bodily contact by another person or object another person is (or was) in possession of. Violence is not a requirement.
Penalties for Simple Assault
When a bodily injury is caused by a simple assault, an offender may be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. A conviction can carry a one-year jail sentence plus a fine reaching $4,000.
In the cases of threatening bodily harm or making unwanted physical contact, a Class C misdemeanor can result. Sentencing is usually a fine with no jail time.
When Texas Assault Becomes Aggravated
Aggravated assault is typically charged either when severe bodily injury is caused to another OR when a deadly weapon is brandished or used during an assault. However, there are other common aggravating factors according to Texas law.
- Location of the assault: Did the assault take place in the victim’s home or at school?
- Status of the victim: Was the victim elderly? A minor child? Part of a vulnerable population? Or a public servant of some kind?
- Severity of injury: In Texas, any injury that poses a risk of or causes death, serious permanent disfigurement, protracted impairment or loss of a body part is “aggravated.”
- Use of a deadly weapon: Texas Penal Code identifies deadly weapons as anything that can be used or intended for use to cause grave bodily injury or death.
Penalties for Aggravated Assault
Committing an aggravated assault in Texas is grounds for a second-degree felony. The perpetrator can serve between 2 and 20 years in jail and be made to pay fines upward of $10,000 upon conviction.
In some circumstances, such as those involving domestic violence, the perpetrator can be charged with a first-degree felony and face life in prison.
When Your Defense Strategy for Assault Charges Might Change
The most common defenses used in cases of assault are self-defense, defense of others, and defense of property. However, if you’re facing aggravated charges, you might be staring down a prison term up to twenty times longer and a fine more than double that of a simple assault.
This is when your defense strategy needs nuance. Here are some examples of how an experienced Texas criminal law attorney might shift the court’s perspective on what took place…
The Severity of Injury Can Provide Insight into Intent
A huge part of every criminal case is the defendant’s intent. When brandishing a firearm, for instance, if the offender did not actually shoot the other person or if they did, they aimed lower than the vital organs, a strong case can be made for an intent to protect, not an intent to harm.
Use of a Deadly Weapon Can Be Tempered with the Right Permitting
In the same scenario described above, let’s say you can present the proper permitting to legally possess the “deadly weapon” involved. If you have no prior criminal history similar to the charges you currently face, again, evidence points to clear decision-making, and not simply rash violence.
Victim Status Sometimes Isn’t Readily Evident
Flared tempers and over-indulgence are two common (and human) states. It’s not like a Friday night fight over a girl, after a long week, following a heated argument at home (whatever the motivation) never happened. So what if you wind up in a bar brawl with an off-duty cop or another public servant? Suddenly your misdemeanor tiff is a felony charge.
If you honestly didn’t realize you were going ‘round with an official, and can also show little to no violent history among other things, you may be able to have your charges reduced.
These are just a few of the ways an experienced Texas assault attorney can modify your defense strategy in order to shed light on the facts and ensure the best possible outcome for your case. The right set of eyes on the situation could mean the difference between a fine and twenty years in prison.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.