While some states have seperate charges for assault and battery, under Texas law, both physical assault and verbal threats are considered “assault”. Below, we’ve broken down the types of charges, penalties, and possible defenses associated with assault charges in Texas.
Types of Assault Charges in Texas
Depending on the severity of the offense, you could be facing either a misdemeanor or a felony. In general, assault charges are categorized into “simple assault charges”, and “aggravated assault charges”.
Simple Assault Charge
Under Texas law, one or more of the following actions would constitute assault:
- Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another, including one’s spouse.
- Intentionally or knowingly threatening another with imminent bodily injury, including one’s spouse.
- Intentionally or knowingly causing physical contact with another when the actor knows—or should reasonably believe—that the other will find the contact offensive or provocative.
The definitions make it clear that as well as causing bodily harm, there doesn’t need to be any physical contact for an offense to have occurred. You can be arrested for threatening to hurt someone.
Aggravated Assault Charge
The following aggravating factors raise the seriousness of the assault, and the penalties associated with the offense:
- Causing serious bodily injury to another, including your spouse.
- Using or exhibiting a deadly weapon during the assault.
A deadly weapon could be anything that can cause serious bodily injury or death, including a steel rod or metal pipe, a knife, a rope, or a handgun. The law makes it clear that you don’t have to actually use the weapon to have committed aggravated assault—just waving it around and making threats could be enough to get you charged.
Examples of Simple and Aggravated Assault
To help you understand the difference between a simple assault charge and aggravated assault, we’ve compiled some examples of how assault is categorized in Texas:
- Threatening to hit someone
- Throwing an object at someone (but not causing serious bodily injury)
- Pushing someone
- Touching someone inappropriately
- Holding a knife (or any other weapon) and threatening to use it on another person
- Physically assaulting another person with a deadly weapon
- Inflicting a knife wound that causes disfigurement or damage to an organ
- Inflicting an eye injury that results in full or partial blindness
Classification and Penalties for Simple and Aggravated Assault in Texas
Simple assault and aggravates assault crimes are classified depending on various factors. For example, an assault against some protected people can result in harsher punishment. Below, we’ve set out all the classes and degrees an assault charge could be categorized as, and its corresponding punishments.
Class C Misdemeanor
A simple assault, such as threatening someone verbally, will usually be classified as a Class C misdemeanor. However, this assumes there was no physical injury, and that the actor does not have any previous assault convictions.
Intentional physical contact that another person finds offensive or provocative would also be considered a Class C misdemeanor.
The penalty for a Class C misdemeanor is a fine of up to $500.
Class B Misdemeanor
Verbal assault aimed towards a sports participant, for example, a player, umpire, or referee, by a spectator or non-sport participant, would result in a Class B misdemeanor.
For a Class B misdemeanor, defendants can expect to spend up to 180 days in jail, and a fine of up to $2,000.
Class A Misdemeanor
An assault causing physical injury, or any assault against a disabled, elderly, pregnant, or vulnerable person—even if it does not result in harm—will result in a Class A misdemeanor.
Punishments for Class A misdemeanors include up to one year in jail, and a fine of up to $4,000.
Third Degree Felony
A simple assault including bodily injury would usually be a Class A misdemeanor. However, if the assault was carried out against a public servant, or against a person whom the actor is related to—this includes dating partners and spouses—then it is classed as a third-degree felony.
Other circumstances that could elevate the offense into a third-degree felony include:
- The defendant has a previous assault conviction
- The defendant intentionally tried to cut off a person’s breathing, for example, by strangulation
- The assault was against a security officer
- The assault was against an emergency worker
- The assault was against a pregnant woman, with the intention to force an abortion
- Against a person that the defendant knew was pregnant at the time
For a third-degree felony, punishments include two to ten years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
Second Degree Felony
If the assault causes serious bodily injury, or if a weapon is used during the assault, the charge becomes aggravated assault. This is considered a second-degree felony.
Punishments for a felony of the second degree include a minimum prison sentence of two years and a maximum of 20 years, and a fine of up to $10,000.
First Degree Felony
If an aggravated assault is committed against a family member or relation, or if the offense takes place against a public servant, a witness, an informant, a process server, or a security officer, then it is considered a felony of the first degree.
Additionally, discharging firearms from a moving vehicle toward a habitation, building, or another vehicle is a first-degree felony.
For a first-degree felony, punishments can include a jail sentence lasting between five years and 99 years, and fines of up to $10,000. Further aggravating circumstances could push the prison sentence to life in jail.
Assault and Battery in Texas
In most states, assault and battery are different offenses. Usually, battery refers to physical bodily injury, while you can still face assault charges for causing harm even if there’s been no physical contact.
In the Texas Penal Code, “assault” can mean verbal as well as physical assault, while a serious bodily injury is classed as “aggravated assault.”
That said, you can still be charged with aggravated assault if you’ve used a weapon to threaten someone, even if you did not end up physically hurting them.
How to Beat an Assault Charge in Texas
Assault charges are taken very seriously in Texas, and the punishments are harsh. However, there are defenses that may help, depending on your case. The sooner you speak to an experienced lawyer, the sooner you can get started on building a strong defense.
Self-defense is one of the most common defenses used against assault charges in the state of Texas.
According to section 9.31 of the Texas Penal Code, a person is justified in using force, when they reasonably believe “force is necessary to protect” themself against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force.
If you are being verbally or physically provocative, however, you would not be able to use self-defense as a defense against assault charges. Additionally, self-defense is not a defense to assault against a peace officer if they are attempting to arrest or search you.
However, the use of necessary force during an arrest may be a defense if before you have displayed any resistance to search or arrest, a peace or law officer “uses greater force than necessary to make the arrest or search,” and you believe the force is necessary to protect yourself.
In either case, if someone—unprovoked—is rushing towards you with a weapon, you have a right to use the minimum amount of force possible in order to protect yourself against harm.
Defense of Others
Just as you have a right to protect yourself if you believe you are in imminent danger, you also have the right to defend another person in the same situation.
Under section 9.33 of the Texas Penal Code, you are justified in using force or deadly force against an aggressor if you reasonably believe that your intervention “is immediately necessary to protect the third person.”
Defense of Property
Force can be used when an uninvited person is attempting to forcefully enter your property, place of work, or vehicle. It is also a defense if said force is used against someone who is attempting to burgle your property.
Under Section 9.41 of the Texas Penal Code, you are justified in using force against another when you believe the force is immediately necessary to prevent or terminate the other’s trespass on your land, or unlawful interference with your property.
The law further protects those who use “deadly force” to protect property in certain situations. According to the Penal Code, a person is justified in using deadly force when they reasonably believe it is necessary to “prevent the other’s imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime.”
Furthermore, this defense can be used when the conduct was taken to protect the property of a third party–for example if you took action to protect a neighbor’s home. That said, you would need to be sure that you have your neighbor’s consent to act.
If you were not involved in the assault, and you were in fact in another location, a defense lawyer can help you prove that this is a case of mistaken identity. The prosecution will have to provide evidence to prove that you were the person who committed the assault.
Eyewitnesses and physical evidence that prove you were in another location at the time of the assault, for example, receipts or camera footage, would help prove your innocence.
Failure to Prove Intent to Harm, Understanding of Intent, or Evidence of Harm
For a conviction, the State of Texas must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly committed assault.
For example, if you are on your way somewhere and you accidentally brush past or bump into someone, they could turn around and say that you physically contacted them in a way that was “offensive” or “provocative”.
If the person fell over and got injured as a result, you may have committed assault by behaving recklessly. However, if they claim that you made contact that was offensive but they remain physically unharmed, a good defense lawyer will be able to argue that it was not your intent to cause harm and that the case should be dismissed.
When it comes to physical injury, proof of a physical assault is not required, but without evidence of physical harm, it becomes more difficult for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed an assault. After all, an alleged victim could have one of several ulterior motives for claiming they were hurt, whether they seek restitution, revenge, or something else.
The Value of Good Attorney Representation
An assault conviction—be it for simple assault or aggravated assault—can have devastating consequences for most people. Even if you are facing a Class C misdemeanor, don’t forget that this conviction would become a permanent criminal record, meaning any future assault charges would be elevated because of it.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer may be able to get the charges against you dropped or dismissed, or else they’ll fight for the best possible outcome. Having someone knowledgeable on the subject can mean the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor.
At Michael & Associates, we know how stressful it can be when you’re facing assault charges. That’s why we offer a free case review. Get in touch today, and we can start building your defense case together.
Ben has vast experience in defending criminal cases ranging from DWIs to assault, drug possession, and many more. He has countless criminal charges dismissed and pled down. Among many other awards, one of the Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorneys in Texas and winner of Top 40 under 40.