The penalties for assault range from Class C misdemeanors to second-degree felonies. In cases where the accused merely threatened the victim, a conviction will most likely result in a Class C misdemeanor. This same type of behavior can rise to a third-degree felony, however, when committed against certain individuals, such as police officers, government officials, public servants, and emergency workers.
Making physical contact with another person typically results in a second or third-degree felony. Because the consequences for assault vary widely depending on the unique circumstances of the case, it is important to work with a criminal defense attorney who has in-depth knowledge of the criminal justice system.
Battery vs. Assault
In everyday conversation, you might have heard the phrase “assault and battery.” Historically, English (and later American) common law treated assault and battery as separate offenses. The difference between the two was relatively straightforward: Assault referred to an action that placed someone in imminent fear of harm or danger, while battery required some proof that “offensive contact” occurred. In other words, if you swing your first at someone but missed their head, that would be assault–but if you made contact, that would be battery.
The current Texas Penal Code no longer considers “battery” a separate offense. Instead, the law simply defines both types of offenses as “assault.” Indeed, the modern version of criminal assault requires no evidence that the defendant made physical contact with the victim; it is sufficient for the state to prove that the accused “intentionally or knowingly threaten[ed] another with imminent bodily injury,” which is essentially battery.
Dealing with a First-Time Assault and Battery Charge
A first-time assault charge does not necessarily mean you are facing jail time. If the nature of the assault charge only involved making threats of physical contact against another person, and there are no special or aggravating factors involved, prosecutors can only pursue a Class C misdemeanor charge. This means that even if convicted, the accused faces no jail time, only a fine of up to $500.
But there are a number of factors that can quickly elevate an assault charge. For example, the Penal Code defines a specific subset of assault offenses involving sporting contests. Let’s say an intoxicated fan sitting in the stands at a high school football game disagrees with a call made by the referee. The fan decides to charge the field and punches the official in protest.
This is now a case of Class B misdemeanor assault because Texas assault law expressly forbids any non-participant in a sporting event from threatening or making unwanted physical contact with a participant, including a player or official, in such an event. And unlike a Class C assault charge, a Class B misdemeanor does carry possible jail time–up to 180 days, in fact, plus a maximum possible fine of $2,000.
Keep in mind, Class B and Class C misdemeanor assault does not require the defendant to cause any injury to the victim. If there is bodily injury, however, now the charge is at least a Class A misdemeanor. The effectively doubles the maximum Class B misdemeanor penalties, to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine, respectively.
There are also a number of special situations where even a first-time assault and battery charge can be prosecuted as a felony in Texas. Some of the more common scenarios include:
- an assault committed against a public servant or a government contractor in connection with the performance of their official duties; or
- an assault committed against a family or household member, or a dating partner, if the accused has a prior conviction for a similar offense, or the alleged assault involved choking.