Under Texas law, the crime of assault is defined broadly. While some states have separate criminal charges for assault and battery, Texas lumps all forms of injurious or offensive touching under one crime. To be found guilty of assault, the prosecutor will have to prove not only the alleged act occurred, but also that you acted with intent or knowledge. Violent crimes often catch the attention of the public, and it's not unusual for prosecutors to “throw the book” at a defendant in an assault case. If you've been charged with assault, an attorney with experience in criminal defense law can help you build the best defense possible.
What is Considered Assault in Texas?
In Texas, assault without aggravating factors like the use of a weapon is known as “simple assault.” Assault is broadly defined and can include anything from a bar fight to spitting on someone. It even applies in situations where there was no physical touching at all. Threats alone are enough under certain conditions. In Texas, simple assault is:
- intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another person
- intentionally or knowingly threatening another person with imminent bodily injury, or
- intentionally or knowingly causing physical contact with another that the offender knows or reasonably should know the victim will find provocative or offensive.
Causing Bodily Injury
The first type of assault under Texas law involves intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury. Texas considers bodily injury to include physical pain, illness, or the impairment of any physical condition. It can include any injury that does not qualify as a “serious bodily injury,” including cuts, scrapes, and bruises. Assault is still possible even if the act leaves no visible marks on a person's body.
To be convicted under this type of assault, the state must show you intended to cause the injury, knew you would cause the injury, or should have known you would have caused the injury. Whether you had the required intent is a matter for a jury to decide.
Threatening Imminent Injury
The second type of assault under Texas law involves intentionally or knowingly threatening imminent bodily injury on another person. This type of assault charge generally hinges on whether the alleged victim was reasonable in their fear of imminent bodily injury. A prosecutor would have to prove not only that a threat happened, but it caused the alleged victim to fear imminent harm.
Causing Offensive Contact
The third type of assault under Texas law includes causing physical contact with another person while intending or knowing that the contact might be provocative or offensive. It is important to note that unlock the first type of assault, reckless conduct is not covered here. In other words, contact that unwittingly offends another is not assault.
Potential Punishment for an Assault Charge
In most cases, simple assault is charged as a misdemeanor. The level of misdemeanor can increase through some aggravating factors including the presence of a minor injury. And while less common, there are some aggravating factors that make simple assault a felony offense.
Misdemeanor Simple Assault
An assault will be charged as a Class C misdemeanor if you threaten with bodily harm or knowingly cause offensive physical contact. No other aggravating factors can be present. A Class C misdemeanor carries a fine of up to $500.
An assault can be upgraded to a Class B misdemeanor if the alleged victim is a sports participant in a performance, or in retaliation for a sports performance. A Class B misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of up to 180 days in jail as well as a fine of up to $2,000.
Assault can be charged as a Class A misdemeanor in two circumstances. First, if you are alleged to have caused bodily to injury to another person while there are no other aggravating factors. Second, if you are alleged to have caused provocative or offensive contact to an elderly individual. A Class A misdemeanor carries a maximum jail sentence of one year and a maximum fine of $4,000.
Felony Simple Assault
In certain situations, a simple assault can be charged as a felony. A third-degree felony conviction carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. A second-degree felony carries a sentence of between 2 and 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
A simple assault can be charged as a third-degree felony if:
- The alleged victim is a public servant, or the assault is in retaliation for the performance of an official duty;
- If the alleged victim is your family member, spouse, or significant other and you (1) have a prior similar conviction, or (2) you are alleged to have choked your victim;
- The alleged victim contracts with the state for some family services;
- The alleged victim is known to be a security officer acting within the scope of their duty; or
- The alleged victim is known to be emergency services personnel providing emergency services
A simple assault can be charged as a second-degree felony if:
- The offense is committed against a family member, spouse, or significant other;
- If you have a prior conviction for assault against a family member, spouse, or significant other; and
- If you impede the normal breathing or circulation of the victim through choking.
Defenses for an Assault Charge
There is a wide range of potential defenses to assault an experienced defense attorney may consider in your case. Some of the most common are:
While it is unlawful to assault another person, if you are doing so to prevent another from causing you physical harm, you are in within your rights to do so.
Defense of Others
Much like self-defense, you are within your legal rights to protect others from being harmed. This is true even if the end result is that you cause bodily harm to another.
An act that would otherwise count as an assault may not be criminal behavior at all if the victim consented beforehand. A good example would be a boxing match or football game.
The Importance of Finding the Right Defense Attorney
Simple assault may be a lesser crime compared to others, but the impact a conviction for even simple assault can have on your life is huge. Misdemeanor assault carries up to a year in jail. However, the consequences of a conviction will follow you long after your jail sentence is over. An assault conviction can affect you while applying for a job or during a housing search. If you are later convicted of another crime, your previous assault conviction can lead to stiffer penalties.
An experienced attorney with an intimate understanding of Texas' state court systems can provide you with a realistic look at your options as well as help you secure the most favorable outcome possible. E. Jason Leach is a board-certified expert in criminal defense law. His practice is dedicated to defending the rights of the accused in Texas state court. If you have been charged with assault in the Odessa, Texas area contact the Law Office of E. Jason Leach, PLLC to set up your free consultation.