Assault charges come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They can range from a Class C Misdemeanor to a First Class Felony. In layman’s terms, that means some angry chest bumping to an all-out hospital inducing beat-down. Please note that while a Domestic Violence case is an Assault, I am talking about Non-Domestic Violence Assaults here.
In Texas, Assaultive Offenses are defined in Chapter 22 of the Texas Penal Code and include Assault (§22.01), Sexual Assault (§22.011), Indecent Assault (§22.012), Aggravated Assault (§22.02), Aggravated Sexual Assault (§22.021), Injury to a Child, Elderly Individual, or Disabled Individual (22.04), Abandoning or Endangering Child (§22.041), Deadly Conduct (§22.05), Terroristic Threat (§22.07), Aiding Suicide (§22.08), Tampering with a Consumer Product (§22.09), Leaving a Child in a Vehicle (§22.10), and Harassment by Persons in Certain Facilities/Harassment of Public Servant (§22.11).
As you can see, Texas classifies a lot of conduct as assaultive in nature. This is important because Assaultive Offenses are considered violent offenses – even Class C Misdemeanor Assaults – and can adversely impact you in a wide variety of ways outside of the criminal justice system. The most common adverse action that folks face when arrested for an assault, is the denial of a renewal, or an outright refusal to lease to that individual. While some may say that simply being arrested should not preclude someone from having a place to stay – the sad reality is that some landlords simply focus on whether someone was arrested as opposed to an actual conviction when making the decision.
Focusing on just Assault, Texas law states that a person commits assault if:
- They intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause bodily injury to another, including the person’s spouse
- They intentionally, or knowingly threaten another with imminent bodily injury, including person’s spouse
- Intentionally or knowingly cause physical contact with another when the person knows, or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.
While this seems pretty straightforward, it is not. As you saw a few paragraphs above, the severity of the offense depends upon the identity of “victim”.
If you are accused of threatening someone with imminent bodily injury, or simply have physical contact, that does not cause bodily injury, with someone that is non-consensual, you are generally looking at a Class C misdemeanor. The good news, you cannot be sentenced to jail. The bad news, you now have a criminal record. I saw generally because there are a few exceptions to this rule.
- Exception 1: if you commit an act under definition 3 and that person is elderly (65 or over) or disabled (this is a very broad definition that covers a majority of conditions except substance abuse disorder, and possibly dementia or epilepsy provided certain other factors are not present). In this case it is a Class A Misdemeanor
- Exception 2: You are NOT a participant in a sporting event and you commit an act under definition 2 or 3, against a person who is performing an official capacity at a sporting event, or in retaliation because of the duty they did at the sporting event. Think bumping the official at a kids sporting even while yelling at them, or grabbing their arm after a kids sporting even and spinning them around, or spitting at an official. This also covers high school, college, and professional sports – including the athletes, coaches, umpires, administrators and staff members. In these cases it is a Class B Misdemeanor.
- Exception 3: Commit an act that falls under definition 2 or 3, against a pregnant person in order to force them to get an abortion. Such conduct is a Class A Misdemeanor.
As you can see, the same type of action can range from a fine only Class C Misdemeanor to a jailable Class A Misdemeanor, simply because of who the victim is. If that was not bad enough, it gets worse when you commit an act that falls under the first definition – intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another.
In Texas, bodily injury does not just mean a bruise, broken bone, or busted skin. Texas Courts define bodily injury quite broadly. While the statutes indicate that bodily injury means “physical pain, illness or any impairment of physical condition” the Courts have decided that includes red marks and bruising left by squeezing too hard. Yep, that arm squeeze that left a red mark is a Class A Misdemeanor. However, if there is a serious bodily injury, that is a whole different crime, you are now up to Aggravated Assault, which starts out as a Second Degree Felony (potentially 2-20 years in prison), and can become a First Degree Felony (potentially 5-99 years in prison) – again depending upon who the “victim” is and if a deadly weapon was used.
Just like the exceptions to definitions 2 or 3 that look at the identity of the “victim” to determine punishment, the same is true if you commit an act that falls under definition 1. Again, while most assaults that cause bodily injury are Class A Misdemeanors, there are a number of exceptions – in this case exception means you are now charged with a Third Degree Felony.
- Exception 1: you commit an act under definition 1 against a public servant that is lawfully discharging their duties or in retaliation because of their lawful discharging of their duties. This is NOT a peace officer (cop), that is discussed below.
- Exception 2: you commit an act under definition 1 against a family member and were previously convicted under this section, or you commit the act against a family member by restricting their ability to breath or for blood to circulate. This situation is discussed more thoroughly on the domestic violence page.
- Exception 3: you commit an act under definition 1 against certain contractors or employees at certain governmental facilities, or facilities contracted to provide certain services to the government – think privately owned state jail felony facilities and you hit someone that works there.
- Exception 4: you commit an act under definition 1 against a security officer. In this case security officer means someone as defined in the Occupations code, and licensed or registered with the state. That guy driving around the parking lot at your local mall may fit into this category.
- Exception 5: you commit an act under definition 1 against an emergency services provider, in other words firefighters, EMS personnel, ER personnel, and others that provide services in emergency situations.
- Exception 6: you commit an act under definition 1 against a private process server. That person that served you with divorce papers, or the lawsuit, don’t hit them. You don’t need to add a felony case to the already pending civil case.
- Exception 7: you commit an act under definition 1 against a pregnant person in order to force them to get an abortion. Remember, if it is under definition 2 or 3, you are looking at a Class A Misdemeanor, if you cause bodily injury, you are looking at a Third Degree Felony.
- Exception 8: As of September 1, 2021, if you commit an act under definition number 1 against a pregnant person, it is a third degree felony. It does not matter if you were in a romantic relationship with the person, simply put, if you cause bodily injury to someone that you know, or should have known was pregnant, it is a third degree felony.
- Exception 9: If you are at a mental health facility, and commit an act under definition 1 against someone working there, it is a third degree felony.
With that said, if you commit an act under definition number 1 against a peace officer or a judge, while they are doing their job, or in retaliation for something that they did, it is Second Degree Felony. This means you are now looking at 2-20 years in prison.
The other time that an act under definition 1 becomes a Second Degree Felony is if you commit an act under definition 1 against a family member by impeding the breath/circulation of the person, and you had a prior conviction for assault causing bodily injury, or a similar offense.
Cases involving “victims” that are 14 or younger, 65 or older, or are disabled no matter their age fall under their own special statute.
Because of the subtle nuances involved with assault cases requires an experienced attorney to assist you in your defense. When the same act can result in a crime varying between a Class A misdemeanor to a Second Degree Felony, it is important that your attorney is well versed in the law, and the defenses that are available to you.