By: Mark Diaz
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Aggravated Assault in Texas and the Penalties for It
Penalties For Aggravated Assault In Texas
It was back in 1960 that federal officials first began classifying criminal offenses, according to a Crime Index, which includes a total of eight categories involving the most serious crimes committed nationwide. Aggravated assault is included as one classification among violent crimes, and each US state imposes a specific definition and penalties.
The charges are extremely serious in Texas, and statistics indicate that law enforcement aggressively pursues offenders. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety:
- In 2019, there were almost 76,000 individuals arrested for aggravated assault.
- There was a spike in 2020, as the number of people charged with aggravated assault increased more than 16% from the previous year. A total of 88,030 individuals were arrested.
- Though most arrests occur during the summer months, the second-highest period for aggravated arrest charges is October through December.
- Around 43% of all arrests for aggravated assault involve firearms, while other dangerous weapons account for 27% of attacks.
While these statistics may be informative from the perspective of aggravated assault arrests, it is always important to remember that an arrest is not a conviction. You may benefit from defenses and other strategies to avoid the harshest punishment. A Galveston assault and battery lawyer can explain potential tactics after reviewing your circumstances, but you should be aware of the basics of aggravated assault in Texas and the penalties for it.
Elements of Aggravated Assault in Texas
Generally speaking, aggravated assault is a more serious form of assault. At the outset, you should note that Texas criminal laws provide for assault as a violent offense; the crime you might know familiarly as the battery is incorporated into the elements of assault. You could face charges for aggravated assault if:
- Serious Bodily Injury to Another Person. With this form of the offense, the prosecutor must prove that you intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly caused serious bodily injury to the victim. As such, your state of mind is an element of the crime. There must be evidence of your intent, or proof that you acted with reckless disregard for what would happen as a result of your actions. Plus, the prosecution needs to establish “serious” bodily injury, e.g., the harm that leads to death, hospitalization, disfigurement, or broken bones.
- Use of a Deadly Weapon: The second version of aggravated assault involves the use or exhibition of a deadly weapon in connection with an assault crime. Therefore, the prosecutor must first prove the essential elements of assault:
- You intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly caused bodily injury, though perhaps not meeting the threshold of “serious” harm.
- You threatened the victim with imminent bodily injury.
- You caused physical contact with another person, knowing that it would be viewed as offensive or provocative by the victim.
In addition to firearms, a deadly weapon could include any device that in the manner used could cause serious bodily injury or death. Examples include knives, a baseball bat, an electrical cord, or even your hands in a “strongarm” aggravated assault.
Penalties for a Conviction on Aggravated Assault Charges
Due to the severity of the crime and classification as a violent offense, aggravated assault is always charged as a felony. The base offense is a Second Degree Felony punishable by a mandatory minimum prison sentence of at least two years. Though, a judge or jury could order up to 20 years of incarceration. Plus, a conviction may result in a fine of up to $10,000.
In some cases, aggravated assault is a First Degree Felony. If convicted, the judge must sentence you to at least five years in prison. However, the potential range could be up to 99 years or life in prison. The underlying circumstances dictate the charges, so you could be arrested for First Degree Felony Aggravated Assault by:
- Using a deadly weapon while committing assault, which causes serious bodily injury to a member of your family or household.
- Committing aggravated assault against a public servant who is lawfully performing his or her job duties.
- Retaliating against a witness to a crime.
- Engaging in an aggravated assault against a security officer.
- Firing a firearm from a vehicle into a dwelling, building, or another vehicle, leading to serious bodily injury.
Strategies for Defending Assault Charges
When you know the implications for your rights, freedoms, and wallet, you can see that a solid defense is crucial. There are different stages along the criminal process that you may leverage defenses and other strategies, but the starting point is understanding the prosecutor’s burden. The government must prove every element of aggravated assault, beyond a reasonable doubt, to obtain a conviction.
As such, the initial strategy for your Galveston assault and battery attorney may involve taking the offense in terms of defense: Exposing weaknesses in the prosecution’s evidence, and thereby raising a shadow of doubt in the minds of the jury. You might have grounds to contest:
- Proof of intent, knowledge, or recklessness.
- Claims that the victim suffered serious bodily injury.
- Evidence of the underlying crime of assault, which is necessary before the prosecutor can prove aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
- Allegations that contact with the victim was offensive or provocative when no reasonable person would have viewed it as such.
- The fact that your threats could result in “imminent” bodily injury, which generally means that you were capable of causing harm.
Doubts and discrepancies in any of these areas could lead to a pretrial dismissal of the charges or acquittal after a trial. However, keep in mind that many prosecutors would rather see some outcome in their favor as opposed to not getting a conviction. For this reason, weaknesses in the evidence might be advantageous in other ways. You might be able to convince the prosecutor to reduce the charges to assault, a Class A or B Misdemeanor. Instead of a long prison term, you might face jail time from 180 days to a year, along with a fine ranging from $2,000 to $4,000. Plus, your criminal history would reflect a misdemeanor instead of a felony conviction.
Your Galveston assault and battery attorney may also advise you on additional defense possibilities, including unreasonable fear by the victim, mutual combatants, self-defense, and defense of others.
Legal Help at Every Stage of a Criminal Case
From the moment of your arrest or becoming aware that you are being investigated, you must take advantage of every opportunity to defend against aggravated assault charges. And not just when the trial date is set. A Galveston assault and battery attorney plays a critical role in ensuring the best possible outcome, through such tasks as:
- Counseling you on your right to remain silent during police questioning and interviews.
- Representing you in court at your first appearance and/or arraignment, during which the charges will be read and you enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
- Working out bail arrangements when available, so you can remain free on bond pending the trial date.
- Raising motions to your advantage, including motions to compel evidence, toss unlawfully obtained evidence, or dismiss aggravated assault charges.
- Appearing in court to guide you through other court hearings.
- Conducting discovery and depositions to obtain evidence for trial.
- Advocating on your behalf during the trial, including opening statements, questioning, cross-examining witnesses, presenting key exhibits, and closing arguments.
Keep in mind that the conclusion of your trial is not usually the end of an aggravated assault case. As a felony offense, the court will often schedule a sentencing hearing to take place after the jury returns a guilty verdict. A criminal defense lawyer can also provide support during the proceedings, such as through evidence of mitigating circumstances, your character, and other factors. With this assistance, it may be possible to stay on the low end of mandatory minimum sentencing.
What to do if Arrested for Aggravated Assault
Because your attorney will likely not be present at the moment of your arrest, you are in the best position to protect your own rights. Of course, the first priority is to remain silent at all costs. Do not deny your actions, profess your innocence, explain yourself, or accuse the victim of misconduct. All of your words could be used against you in court. The ONLY statement you should make to officers is a request to contact your criminal defense lawyer immediately. In addition:
- Do not try to communicate when the victim is someone you know.
- Never accept a “deal” from police, who are not authorized to make such offers.
- If you must appear in court before securing legal counsel, always enter a not guilty plea.
Consult with Our Galveston Assault and Battery Lawyers About Defense Options
Hopefully, this overview helps you understand aggravated assault in Texas and the penalties for a conviction. The information should also convince you that it is critical to have an experienced Galveston County assault defense lawyer on your side from the earliest stages of the criminal process.
To learn how our team fights for the rights of clients throughout Galveston County and Greater Houston, please contact Criminal Defense Attorney Mark Diaz. You can set up a free consultation by calling (409) 515-6170. After evaluating your situation, we can get started on a strategy for defending against aggravated assault charges.
Mark Diaz & Associates is a Criminal Defense Law Firm in Galveston, Texas representing clients throughout Galveston, Chambers and Harris Counties including but not limited to Tiki Island, Jamaica Beach, Texas City, League City, Alvin, Algoa, Santa Fe, Hitchcock, La Marque, Bayou Vista, Bacliff, San Leon, Dickinson, Kemah, Bolivar Peninsula, Clear Lake Shores, and Friendswood.