UPDATED 8/18/2021, Original Post: January 18, 2018
If you are arrested on assault charges in Texas, it is crucial to understand the legal process you will have to go through. This way, you’ll be more prepared at each step of the journey and give yourself a better chance of achieving a positive outcome.
Assaults are serious crimes that are prosecuted in criminal court. However, as someone charged with assault, you should also prepare to fight a civil case.
The criminal case will charge you with a specific crime, in this case, assault. It will be up to the prosecution to provide evidence explaining why you’re guilty.
Likewise, in a civil lawsuit, the alleged assault victim will explain why you should pay for their injuries. For this reason, the cases are similar but have different outcomes. The criminal case deals with potential imprisonment and fines, while the civil case deals primarily with financial restitution.
Below, you’ll find a step-by-step walkthrough of the legal process following your arrest for assault. In this post, you’ll learn about criminal assault charges and civil lawsuits to expect after being charged with assault.
The process begins with an arrest and processing into the jail system after receiving an assault charge. After being arrested, your attorney will provide you with a date for your bail hearing.
Appearing before a judge
Within 48 hours of the arrest, you will appear before a magistrate, or judge, who will read you the charges and inform you of certain rights, such as your right to remain silent and your right to an attorney.
It is impossible to stress enough the importance of retaining experienced legal counsel as early on in the process. Ideally, your lawyer will appear at this meeting.
The judge will also inform you of your right to an examining trial, where reasons for the arrest or probable cause must be established by the prosecution.
Additionally, the judge will either set bail or order you to be released without bail. The judge has full discretion on your bail amount, though your attorney can request a bail reduction if you qualify.
Finally, the date for your next court appearance will be set.
The interim between arrest and trial dates
Let’s say that the judge grants you bail. If this occurs, you can post a bond and live your life regularly, at least until your trial date. However, if you cannot post bail, or the judge worries that you’re a threat to the public (or the assault victim), a judge might deny your bail.
Another option a judge has is to place a restraining order against you. Judges do this to protect alleged victims while also letting you stay out of jail while you await trial. During this time, you should work with a criminal defense lawyer to build a defense that proves your innocence from the alleged crimes.
The prosecution will file charges based on the level of your assault charge. The levels are as follows:
Class C misdemeanor: threatening bodily harm or causing offensive physical contact
Class B misdemeanor: assault on a sports participant related to a performance
Class A misdemeanor: causing bodily injury to someone, or causing offensive physical contact against an elderly person
Third degree felony: Assault on a family member, household member, dating partner, or other protected status individuals. Also applies to intoxicated assault, which is causing serious bodily injury to another while intoxicated.
Second degree felony: Assault on a family member, household member or dating partner, has a previous similar offense against the same person, or the offense involves choking
Aggravated assault charges will apply if it causes serious injury or a weapon is used during the offense.
This is the first court appearance after charges are filed. Your charges may be read in court, and you will have the opportunity to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Your attorney or the prosecution may ask for a continuance for further investigation into the case.
At this point, your attorney may negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor for reduced charges and penalties. If a deal cannot be brokered, the case will proceed to trial.
A misdemeanor case will have six jurors and a felony case will have 12 jurors. The prosecution must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, or the jury can find you not guilty.
If you are convicted for assault, the sentencing will fall along these lines:
Class C misdemeanor: Fine of up to $500.
Class B misdemeanor: Up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
Class A misdemeanor: Up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000.
Third degree felony: Up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000
Second degree felony: Two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
First-degree felony: Five years to life in prison, plus a fine set by the judge.
A frequent question we receive from clients – If the case proceeds to a criminal trial docket, does that mean it absolutely will go to trial? Not necessarily. Many times, to get the best result on a criminal case, an experienced criminal defense lawyer must push the prosecutor to treat their client fairly.
Depending upon the county in Texas, it is likely a trial docket will consist of anywhere between 20 – 40 cases set for trial on each setting. Typically, a court can only resolve 1 – 2 trials per week. As a result, the judge will look to push the prosecutor and criminal defense attorney to resolve the case. At this stage of the negotiation, it can create unique opportunities for an aggressive criminal lawyer to negotiate a much better result for their client.
Receiving Your Sentence
You’ll go through the sentencing process if the jury believes that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Your sentence depends on the facts surrounding the case. Your penalty may be more severe depending on who’s involved and the severity of any threats or injuries.
If found guilty during your criminal case, you can expect fines, jail time, probation, or other criminal punishments. Of course, the goal of any exceptional lawyer is to ensure that you receive a non-guilty verdict or at least get you the best sentencing terms possible.
Defenses To Assault
When planning your fight against the State of Texas, it is important to know your options for your criminal defense. Below are examples of possible defenses to a Texas Assault Charge:
- Self-Defense – were you placed in a position where you had to assault someone to protect yourself from injury? It is a common occurrence that the police will charge the winner of a fight with assault. However, the winner was not always the aggressor and may have done nothing wrong if the loser of the fight was the one who threw the first punch?
- No Criminal Intent – was the injury an accident? Perhaps you have been charged with assault but you did not intend to cause the injury and it was purely accidental. For instance, if someone closes a door behind them and has no knowledge that another person was walking through and this action causes injury, this was an accident, not an assault. There was no criminal intent.
- No Injury – what if an altercation took place but someone was merely offended and no injury or pain has taken place? This is not an arrestable assault charge. The police may choose to bring a charge of Class C Assault By Contact, but this is punishable by fine only.
- The Alleged Victim Does Not Wish To Prosecute – what if the alleged victim now realizes they were not a victim at all? What if they were emotionally upset and offended but realize they jumped to conclusions by bringing assault charges? In this situation, the victim can provide an affidavit of non-prosecution outlining the fact they were not actually injured. This could assist your criminal lawyer in negotiating a favorable result for your assault case.
Now that you understand how criminal cases develop let’s discuss the significant differences with civil proceedings for assault cases.
How do criminal and civil cases differ?
While you wait for the process of your criminal case to conclude, you may also face a civil lawsuit in Texas. The civil case does not deal with criminal punishments like fines and jail times. Instead, the purpose of a criminal case is to provide compensation for injuries that the alleged victim sustains.
Civil cases require a specific burden of proof before the defendant is found guilty. After being found guilty of a civil case, the defendant must provide restitution or financial compensation to the injured party.
Although civil cases can occur before a judge and sometimes a jury, few disputes make it to this point. Instead, most civil cases in Texas end after negotiations between the plaintiff and defendant’s attorneys. Both parties can avoid trial and find a financial solution that works for both by coming together outside of court.
Will my civil case only deal with restitution for injuries after an assault?
Many factors go into assault allegations. Sometimes, a family member, housemate, or partner brings forth domestic abuse allegations, complicating civil cases. Depending on your relationship with the individual with a civil suit, you might also use the opportunity to incorporate divorce proceedings, resolve child custody disputes, and even enter bankruptcy.
What’s the burden of proof in civil vs. criminal cases in Texas?
During civil and criminal cases, prosecutors attempt to prove that you are guilty of committing specific crimes. However, there’s a term to be aware of, known as “burden of proof.” Prosecutors have different standards to meet during civil and criminal proceedings before you’re proven as being “guilty” for your crimes. Civil cases have a lesser burden of proof than criminal cases since the punishments are typically less severe.
Criminal case burden of proof
So, during your criminal case, what’s the burden of proof? Well, a defendant must prove to a jury using evidence that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There should be no question or uncertainty as to whether or not you assaulted another individual if you are given a guilty verdict.
Civil case burden of proof
Yet, in civil cases, the burden of proof isn’t so high. There only needs to be a preponderance of the evidence. Therefore, if a judge (or, in some cases, a jury) believes that it’s more than likely true that you assaulted someone, then the other party’s civil law attorney met their burden of proof.
Alternatively, an attorney can win their civil case against you by citing “clear and convincing” evidence that is more likely true than untrue about your involvement in the assault. Therefore, it’s much easier to lose cases as a defendant in civil proceedings than to be proven guilty in a criminal case.
Additionally, because a civil case deals with victim restitution, attorneys have more flexibility to resolve this type of dispute. An experienced attorney helps their client by selling out of court, which can save time and trial expenses.
What about the flexibility of plea bargains?
There are also ways to resolve criminal trials creatively, although this does not always benefit the defendant. If an attorney wants to reduce their client’s punishment, both parties can agree to enter a plea agreement. During this process, a defendant offers a plea of guilty before the trial’s conclusion. In return, they’ll receive a lesser charge.
However, it’s important to note that plea bargaining isn’t always an effective criminal strategy. Some courts reject plea bargains and stop negotiations from continuing. The State may have several reasons for doing this, including to prevent the defendant from receiving a lesser punishment for their actions.
Fight Your Assault Charges – Contact a Texas Criminal Attorney Immediately
Assault charges come with serious penalties, and you need an experienced lawyer to help you. With a skilled attorney’s assistance, you may have a better chance at receiving a reduced sentence or getting your charges dropped. Reach out today for a free case review.
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.