Criminal Defense of Assault in Texas

Important Legal Differences

Assault is among the most common of crimes charged, but there are important legal differences in the various assaultive crimes that may be alleged under Texas law.

The lawyers at Chappell, Lanehart & Stangl have decades of experience defending clients accused of assaultive offenses with great success. When accused of an assaultive offense, there is no substitute for choosing an experienced, aggressive lawyer to protect your reputation and liberty.

This article will address assaultive crimes other than those involving sexual misconduct.

Assault, a Class C misdemeanor

Did you know you can be guilty of a crime just by threatening someone or touching someone? Under Texas law, a person commits a crime if the person:

  • Intentionally or knowingly threatens another with imminent bodily injury, including the person’s spouse; or
  • Intentionally or knowingly causes physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.

The crime is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $500. Class C misdemeanor assaults are rarely charged and rarely litigated.

Assault, a Class A misdemeanor

The most common assaultive offense is the Class A misdemeanor offense of assault. Under Texas law, a person commits a crime if the person:

  • Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another . . .

The crime is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a jail term of up to one year in jail and an optional fine of up to $4,000. There are very few collateral consequences associated with a common Class A assault conviction.

Assault, a Third-Degree Felony

If a person commits assault by causing bodily injury to another, as defined above, the crime is enhanced to a third-degree felony, punishable by a prison term of 2-20 years and an optional $10,000 fine, if:

  • The crime is committed against a public servant;
  • The crime is committed in a domestic violence situation (discussed below), and:
    • It is shown on the trial of the offense that the defendant has been previously convicted of family violence; or
    • The offense is committed by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of the person by applying pressure to the person’s throat or neck or by blocking the person’s nose or mouth.

In addition, there are multiple more rare third-degree felony assault crimes described by the Texas Penal Code, including assaulting a security officer and assaulting a pregnant individual to force an abortion.

Domestic Violence Assault

If a Class A misdemeanor assault complaint includes an allegation of “domestic violence,” the stakes increase dramatically.

Domestic violence is probably treated more seriously than any other misdemeanor offense in Texas. A conviction carries additional fines, the loss of certain rights, and automatically increases any subsequent domestic arrests to felonies.

You can be charged with domestic assault for a range of actions, from threatening a spouse or girlfriend to attacking a family member with a deadly weapon. It isn’t necessary for you to injure the other person to be charged with domestic violence.

Domestic assault is one of the few misdemeanor offenses in Texas for which a police officer can arrest you on the spot without witnessing the incident. All the officer needs is probable cause, such as witness statements or evidence of injury, to believe that you made serious threats or committed violence.

The court system also tends to err on the side of caution in family violence cases, allowing a judge to issue a protective order barring you from contact with the family member – meaning you may not be able to return home – immediately after your arrest.

The elements of a domestic violence assault are the same as the elements of simple assault on any other person, as set by the Texas Penal Code. They are:

  • Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to someone else, or,
  • Intentionally or knowingly threatening someone else with imminent bodily injury, or,
  • Intentionally or knowingly causing physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.

You can see that it doesn’t take much technically to constitute a simple assault. Poking someone else in the chest a few times during an argument can be considered assault under Texas criminal law. However, if you use a weapon or cause serious injury, you can be charged with the much more serious aggravated assault.

While there is not a specific “domestic violence” statute, an assault charge is considered domestic violence if the victim is a family member, former spouse, parent of a child in common, or someone with whom you are in a romantic relationship. In those cases, the judge will make a finding of family violence and enter it into the record.

Simple assault is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in a county jail unless you have a previous conviction involving family violence. If so, it becomes a third-degree felony, carrying a possible 2 to 10-year prison sentence.

And for these purposes, a previous conviction is any family violence case in which you were found guilty or pleaded guilty or nolo contendre, even if adjudication was deferred and you completed probation.

Aggravated assault against a family member is a second-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in a state prison. But, if you use a weapon and cause serious injury, the charge increases to a first-degree felony, which can mean up to life in prison.

Probation, or community supervision, is an option in domestic violence cases, with certain stipulations. The judge can require that you pay up to $100, in addition to other court costs, probation costs, and fines, to a domestic violence shelter. And the judge can require that you seek counseling within 60 days of beginning probation. The judge also may require you to pay for any counseling the victim receives.

If you are convicted on domestic assault charges, even if it is a misdemeanor, you will not be able to possess a firearm for up to five years of the end of your sentence or community supervision. After that, you may only be allowed to have a gun at your home. Also:

  • You cannot obtain a Texas hunting or fishing license.
  • Current or future employment may be affected, especially for pilots, military personnel, teachers, health care workers and city/county/state employees.
  • There may be negative ramifications in divorce and child custody cases.

A domestic violence conviction will also likely be accompanied by a protective order. A judge can issue an order valid for up to two years prohibiting you from going near where the victim lives, works, or attends school, and the judge can require you to complete a battering intervention and prevention program run by the state. You also may have to pay the victim’s attorney fees.

Aggravated Assault

Aggravated assault is a very serious felony offense. At a minimum, an aggravated assault conviction carries a possible punishment of two to 20 years in prison and an optional $10,000 fine.

if the person commits assault as defined in Sec. 22.01 and the person:

(1)  causes serious bodily injury to another, including the person’s spouse; or

(2)  uses or exhibits a deadly weapon during the commission of the assault.

(b)  An offense under this section is a felony of the second degree, except that the offense is a felony of the first degree if:

(1)  the actor uses a deadly weapon during the commission of the assault and causes serious bodily injury to a person whose relationship to or association with the defendant is described by Section 71.0021(b), 71.003, or 71.005, Family Code;

(2)  regardless of whether the offense is committed under Subsection (a)(1) or (a)(2), the offense is committed:

(A)  by a public servant acting under color of the servant’s office or employment;

(B)  against a person the actor knows is a public servant while the public servant is lawfully discharging an official duty, or in retaliation or on account of an exercise of official power or performance of an official duty as a public servant;

(C)  in retaliation against or on account of the service of another as a witness, prospective witness, informant, or person who has reported the occurrence of a crime; or

(D)  against a person the actor knows is a security officer while the officer is performing a duty as a security officer; or

(3)  the actor is in a motor vehicle, as defined by Section 501.002, Transportation Code, and:

(A)  knowingly discharges a firearm at or in the direction of a habitation, building, or vehicle;

(B)  is reckless as to whether the habitation, building, or vehicle is occupied; and

(C)  in discharging the firearm, causes serious bodily injury to any person.

(c)  The actor is presumed to have known the person assaulted was a public servant or a security officer if the person was wearing a distinctive uniform or badge indicating the person’s employment as a public servant or status as a security officer.

(d)  In this section, “security officer” means a commissioned security officer as defined by Section 1702.002, Occupations Code, or a noncommissioned security officer registered under Section 1702.221, Occupations Code.

Areas of Practice

Real Clients. Real Results.

“Just wanted to say thank you for representing me in those two charges. Just want you to know that if I know anyone that needs a good criminal lawyer, I will send them your way. Once again, thank you for your work. May God bless you and your family.”

– Client with Two Prior Felony Convictions

Results: Cases Dismissed for Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon; Felon in Possession of Firearm

Despite DNA Evidence, Client Avoids Multiple Charges

Fred Stangl arranged a plea deal for his client, which avoided charges of murder, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping and other charges.

Billy Jack Limbaugh was arrested and charged for the 2008 murder of Monica Adams. As part of the deal in May of 2017, Limbaugh was charged for aggravated assault with a sentence of eight years.

“Just because someone gets charged with an offense does not mean they are guilty, and the evidence particularly in the Monica Adams case was extremely weak,” said Fred Stangl, Limbaugh’s defense attorney.

Client Avoids Murder Charge on Self Defense

Fred Stangl successfully defended a client that was previously convicted of a felony. Ryan Garcia avoided life in prison for shooting and killing Paul Ochoa. Ochoa was attempting a robbery on Garcia’s home. In addition to the murder charge, Stangl was able to get possession of a controlled substance dismissed. After the shooting, police discovered methamphetamine in Garcia’s residence. Instead, Garcia was able to enter into a favorable plea deal for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon.

Charges Dismissed for Former Jailer Accused of Felony

Lanehart successfully filed a motion of dismissal for a former corporal in the Lubbock County Jail. A judge agreed to dismiss felony charges of evidence tampering for the defendant. Chuck Lanehart, said his client was a “scapegoat” for the waste of taxpayers’ money paid to Johnson “for a wrong that was never committed.”