What is the Difference Between Assault and Aggravated Assault?
By: Mark Diaz
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What is the Difference Between Assault and Aggravated Assault?
The common definition of assault is a physical attack on another person, but Texas criminal laws employ a much more detailed description when someone is arrested. The Texas Penal Code on assaultive offenses covers an array of misconduct, including both assault and aggravated assault.
The lines between the two can be confusing, especially when you are familiar with how other US states define these offenses. Some jurisdictions punish assault and battery as separate offenses, viewing assault as a threat of violence and battery as making physical contact. Texas assault laws do punish the threat as well as the attack, but there are different classifications.
As such, if you are facing charges, you are probably wondering about the difference between assault and aggravated assault. From the terminology, you can probably guess that the aggravated version is more serious, but even simple assault can lead to fines and jail time.
You have a better chance of obtaining a favorable outcome by working with Galveston assault defense lawyers, since there may be strategies for fighting the allegations or reducing the severity of the charges. A comparison between assault and aggravated assault is useful for understanding the differences, and a summary of how these cases work is important.
Overview of Texas Assault Charges
The statutes are very specific about what constitutes assault in its various forms, and there are three ways to violate the law. They include intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:
- Causing bodily injury to another person
- Threatening a person with imminent bodily injury and
- Making physical contact with someone, when you know the contact would be viewed as offensive or provocative
From these descriptions, you can tell that #2 and #3 are less serious forms of assault. Both of these offenses are charged as Class C Misdemeanors. Because there is an actual injury with #1, the crime is a Class A Misdemeanor. However, certain factors can take these types of assault into felony territory. You could face a Second- or Third-Degree Felony if:
- The victim is a public servant, government agent dealing with family services, or security officer
- The victim is a family member, member of the household, or someone with whom you had a dating relationship, and there has been a prior conviction for assault
- The offense involved choking
- Other circumstances apply
When a Case is Charged as Aggravated Assault
It is easier to understand aggravated assault because there are fewer variables as compared to simple assault. However, these cases are much more serious in terms of charges and potential penalties for a conviction. An attack is charged as aggravated assault if:
- The victim suffered serious bodily injury OR
- The accused used a weapon in the commission of the assault, in any of the three forms described above
The basic crime of aggravated assault is a Second-Degree Felony, but the charges are elevated to a First Degree Felony if:
- The accused uses a deadly weapon to commit assault against a family member and causes serious bodily injury
- The person commits an aggravated assault against a public servant
- A witness, informant, or person that reported a crime was the victim of aggravated assault or
- The offender discharges a gun from a vehicle at a dwelling, building, or other motor vehicle, and causes serious bodily injury to a victim
Penalties for Assaultive Offenses in Texas
Knowing that simple and aggravated assault are charged as felony or misdemeanor as described above, details on the punishment are useful.
- If convicted of Class C Misdemeanor assault, you could be ordered to pay $500. There is no jail time as part of sentencing.
- For a conviction on Class A Misdemeanor assault charges, the court could sentence you to a year of incarceration plus a $4,000 fine.
- A Third-Degree Felony is punishable by a mandatory minimum of two years in prison, but a judge could order up to 10 years imprisonment. For all degrees of felony assault convictions, a person could also face a $10,000 fine.
- If you are convicted of assault as a Second-Degree Felony, the mandatory minimum is also two years. However, the maximum is 20 years in prison.
- A First-Degree Felony conviction could lead to life in prison, or a minimum of five and a maximum of 99 years of incarceration depending on the circumstances. However, the mandatory minimum is 25 years if you are convicted for aggravated sexual assault of a child.
Other Consequences of an Assault Conviction
Restitution could also be part of your sentence if convicted of assault or aggravated assault in Texas. This form of punishment hits you financially, but it is separate from any fines, court costs, and fees. Restitution is reimbursing the victim for any losses resulting from the offense, such as medical care, psychological treatment, and counseling. In addition:
- You could be sued in civil court, another financial ramification.
- If you share custody of children and the assault involves domestic abuse, you could lose your parental rights.
- A conviction for felony assault could restrict your rights to vote, run for public office, and possess firearms.
- There can be collateral consequences for your employment, as well as business and professional licenses.
Defenses and Tactics for Fighting the Charges
You certainly want to do all you can to avoid these harsh penalties, and there are numerous ways to fight the charges. One that will always apply in a criminal case is preventing the prosecutor from proving all essential elements of assault or aggravated assault beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, the government may not have sufficient evidence regarding state of mind. There can also be issues with proving:
- Bodily injury, which is pain, impairment of a bodily function, or harm like scrapes, abrasions, or bruises
- Serious bodily injury that requires surgery, hospitalization, or emergency care, such as broken bones, deep cuts, and head trauma
Additional defenses include:
- Self-defense, defense of others, and defense of property
- Mutual combatants involved in a physical altercation, such as a bar fight where both individuals are the assailants against each other
- The victim has an unreasonable, unrealistic belief that bodily harm was imminent
- There was no way the offender could know that the physical contact would be perceived as offensive or provocative
Other Strategies in Assault Cases
In an ideal world, you would have a defense that could result in a dismissal of assault or aggravated assault charges before trial. Another positive outcome is getting an acquittal at trial, either because the judge or jury finds that the prosecutor did not meet its burden.
The reality is that you might need to leverage other options for resolving the case. Plea bargaining could be an effective approach in some cases, and you have a prime opportunity to take advantage of the benefits when the prosecutor’s evidence is weak. It may be possible to:
- Take felony assault charges down to a misdemeanor assault crime
- Reduce a higher misdemeanor or felony down to a lower level
- Have some charges dropped when there are multiple felony assault and/or aggravated assault counts.
With all of these strategies, the applicable sentences for a conviction also drop. Plus, even if the charges remain the same, you could work out a plea deal for a lenient punishment. Note that most agreements will require you to plead guilty to assault or aggravated assault charges.
How an Attorney Can Help
It is not enough to have solid defenses, strong strategies for fighting the charges, and/or a plan for working out the charges by plea bargain. These factors will not produce a positive outcome unless you get them properly before the court. You will also need assistance with the stages of the criminal process that all accused individuals will face. A Galveston assault defense lawyer can help by:
- Advising you during your arraignment, which is your first court appearance where the charges are announced and you will be required to enter a plea
- Assisting with arrangements for bond and your pretrial release pending the trial date
- Appearing with you at all required court appearances
- Filing motions with regards to evidence and dismissing the charges
- Deposing the alleged victim and any witnesses to the claims of assault and aggravated assault
- Defending your rights at trial, including making oral arguments, questioning witnesses, and presenting evidence
- Helping with your sentencing hearing
Consult with Our Galveston Assault Defense Lawyers to Learn More
Your situation may seem grim if you were recently charged with assault or aggravated assault, but always remember that an arrest is not a conviction. There are defenses and strategies for exposing weaknesses in the government’s case, which could lead to a dismissal, acquittal at trial, or other favorable outcome.
Our team is dedicated to pursuing all available options for resolving the charges, so please contact criminal defense attorney Mark Diaz right away to discuss your case. We serve clients in Greater Houston and throughout Galveston County in a range of criminal matters, so we will fight allegations of assault and aggravated assault. You can call 409-515-6170 to schedule a free consultation with a Galveston County assault defense attorney.