Any kind of assault charge is a serious matter, but if you are facing a charge of aggravated assault, it is that much more so. Having a basic understanding of aggravated assault charges in Texas can help you make the right legal decisions along the way. One of the most important first steps that anyone facing an aggravated assault charge should take is consulting with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as early in the process as possible.
In Texas, aggravated assault is defined as knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly causing someone else to be seriously injured or as using or exhibiting a deadly weapon in the course of committing any kind of assault (including the act of threatening someone else with bodily injury or of engaging in conduct that the victim is likely to find offensive). This definition packs in a lot of information, which makes breaking it down into its basic components a good place to start.
In order to act intentionally, one must have a conscious objective to engage in the act and/or to cause the assault. For example, picking up a gun, pointing it at someone else, and pulling the trigger clearly demonstrates that the accused intended to cause injury.
To act knowingly, on the other hand, refers to being reasonably certain about the effects one’s conduct will have. For example, one can be reasonably certain that shooting into a crowd will result in harm (whether or not the specific harm was intended or not). When conduct is reasonably sure to cause a result, the element of acting knowingly is met.
In order to act recklessly, the accused must have acted with purposeful disregard for the results of his or her actions. For example, an aggressive driver’s recklessness may not be intended to cause someone else harm, but he or she greatly increases the risk of causing harm. Reckless disregard for the safety of others – rather than an intention to cause harm – is enough to trigger a charge of aggravated assault.
Serious Bodily Injury
To reach the level of serious bodily injury, one of the following must be true:
There was a substantial risk of death involved.
The victim was seriously and permanently disfigured.
The victim suffered impaired function of or a functional loss of a bodily member or organ
The victim died.
In order to prove serious bodily injury, the prosecutor must demonstrate that the victim’s injuries are so serious that his or her life is substantially altered. The kinds of injuries that fit into this classification tend to require surgery, hospitalization, and/or physical therapy. Not every seemingly serious injury meets the legal level of serious bodily injury.
A deadly weapon in relation to the charge of aggravated assault is one that is inherently dangerous. Examples include:
Guns and other firearms
Depending upon the circumstances, however, items like baseball bats, golf clubs, chairs, and ropes can all be considered deadly weapons. In fact, nearly anything can qualify as a deadly weapon if it is used with the specific intent of causing serious harm.
Aggravated Assault by Threat
You can face an aggravated assault charge if the person who accuses you alleges to have felt threatened and in fear of serious bodily injury, and this is where things often become especially complicated. For example, if you are holding a weapon and someone else claims to have been afraid for his or her life, you could potentially face an aggravated assault charge.
Many people wonder whether an act of self-defense can result in aggravated assault charges, and this is a reasonable question. The fact is that if you are threatened by someone else and you have a concealed carry license, pulling your weapon in order to defend yourself from the other person can lead to arrest (by virtue of you having a weapon). Probable cause in this situation can be established by the other person’s word. Claiming to be in fear of serious bodily injury – on the part of the alleged victim – however, is not the same as this fear being objectionably reasonable under the given circumstances and must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Aggravated assault is typically a second-degree felony charge, and a conviction leads to from 2 to 20 years in prison and to fines of up to $10,000. In certain situations, however, the charge can be elevated to a first-degree felony, which carries from 5 to 99 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. These include:
If a deadly weapon is used in the course of the assault and it causes a family member, household member, or romantic partner of the accused to suffer serious bodily injury, it is domestic assault and is a first-degree felony.
The assault victim is a public servant or security officer who is on the job.
The accused knows the victim is a public servant, and the crime is in retaliation for a duty he or she performed on the job.
The victim is assaulted in retaliation for reporting a crime or for being an informant or witness.
The accused shoots a gun out of a motor vehicle at a house, vehicle, or building with a reckless disregard for its occupants that results in serious bodily injury.
The Grand Jury Process
Because aggravated assault is a serious felony charge, a grand jury must be convened in order to obtain an indictment. The grand jury amounts to a panel of citizens who shoulder the responsibility of determining if there is probable cause to bring a felony case against the accused. The grand jury reviews the available evidence in the case, and they sometimes come to different conclusions than the police involved and/or the alleged victim involved. If your criminal defense lawyer is able to establish, for example, that the injuries involved do not meet the Texas requirements for serious bodily injury, the felony charge may be lowered to a misdemeanor assault charge or dismissed altogether (through what is known as a no bill).
A no bill amounts to a dismissal of the aggravated assault charge, and if the statute of limitations runs its course with no charge forthcoming, you will be eligible to file an expunction, which means that your aggravated assault arrest and the charge will be deleted permanently from your record. In Texas, the statute of limitations – or time constraint – for bringing an aggravated assault charge is two years.
Bringing your strongest defense against an aggravated assault charge is imperative, and since many of the elements that make up this charge are somewhat subjective, determining your best defense strategy can be exceptionally challenging.
You Have an Alibi
An alibi means that you can prove that you were somewhere other than the scene of the crime when it happened. Some alibis, however, are more reliable and/or more accurate than others. A solid alibi can be the foundation for a solid defense. In order for your alibi to be convincing, you will need convincing evidence to back it up.
The Victim’s Injuries Are Not Significant Enough
In order for a charge of aggravated assault to stick, the victim must have suffered a serious bodily injury (as described above). Making this determination can be challenging and often involves delving into the victim’s medical records. If he or she quickly returns to work or otherwise resumes living his or her normal life, the injury in question is not likely to meet the legal requirements.
There Was No Deadly Weapon
Typically, a gun or knife is considered a deadly weapon (even if the victim was not injured by it). It can be more difficult, however, to prove that other objects are deadly weapons – although many other objects can be classified as deadly weapons (in accordance with how they are used). Demonstrating that no weapon was employed in the commission of the alleged crime can negate this element of the aggravated assault charge.
You Lacked Intent
You can harm someone without intending to do so, and while intent (or lack thereof) is often difficult to prove, it can play a critical role in your defense. The intention in the matter must be explored from all perspectives. It is nearly impossible to prove what someone was thinking at any given time, but if there is evidence that suggests you lacked intent, it can bolster your defense significantly.
What is aggravated assault?
In Texas, the crime is aggravated assault if the accused assaults someone else when one of the following also applies (as the aggravating factor):
He or she causes the victim (including a spouse) to suffer serious bodily injury.
He or she uses or exhibits a deadly weapon during the crime’s commission.
What qualifies as a deadly weapon?
Firearms, knives, and other obvious weapons that are made specifically to inflict harm all qualify as deadly weapons, but just about anything can meet the requirement if it is used in such a way that it could inflict serious bodily injury.
What is the penalty for an aggravated assault conviction?
Aggravated assault is generally a second-degree felony, and a conviction can lead to a prison sentence of from 2 to 20 years and fines of up to $10,000. Certain circumstances, however, can enhance the charge to a first-degree felony, and the penalties increase significantly. There are also serious social consequences related to a conviction of this magnitude, including:
You may have a very difficult time obtaining a job.
You may not be able to rent a home or obtain a loan to buy a home.
Your opportunities in relation to higher education may be curtailed (with limited access to student loans, on-campus housing, and even to acceptance in the college of your choice).
Your professional licence can be revoked.
Your overall social standing can take a serious hit.
What is the statute of limitations?
A statute of limitations refers to the amount of time the state has to bring a specific charge against you. In the State of Texas, the statute of limitations for an aggravated assault case is two years from the date of the alleged crime.
What if I didn’t mean to hurt anyone?
In Texas, the assault must be committed intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly, and this means that even if your intention was not to hurt the victim, an aggravated assault charge might still apply. Recklessness refers to an utter disregard for the safety of others, and it is enough to bring an aggravated assault charge.
Do I really need a lawyer?
You are well-advised to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side if you are facing a criminal charge of any kind, and if the charge is as serious as aggravated assault, the stakes are even higher. Bringing your strongest defense is the surest way to protect your legal rights – in pursuit of your case’s best possible resolution – and this all-important task is best left in the capable hands of a dedicated criminal defense lawyer. Your attorney will engage in all of the following in his or her efforts on your behalf:
Compiling all the relevant evidence in your case
Building your strongest case
Skillfully negotiating with the prosecution in relation to any plea deals, such as a charge and/or sentence reduction (as applicable)
Helping you make the right decisions for you through every step of the legal process
Reach out to an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Lawyer for the Help You Need
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a criminal defense lawyer who takes great pride in his impressive track record of helping clients like you obtain favorable case resolutions. Your future is too important to leave to chance, so please do not wait to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 for more information about how we can help you today.