Posted by Mary Beth Harrell on 06/01/2023

What You Should Know About Aggravated Assault Charges in Texas

What You Should Know About Aggravated Assault Charges in Texas

Aggravated assault is a very serious charge in Texas. The offense is a felony. The degree depends on different factors, including the status of the victim (such as a family member, security officer, or a public servant) and the ability of the local prosecutors to convince a jury of a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A conviction for an aggravated assault charge is likely to result in a lengthy prison sentence, a substantial fine, and collateral consequences such as difficulty finding work and a place to live.

The Texas criminal code’s definition of aggravated assault

Texas defines aggravated assault in Section 22.01 as follows:

Section a. A person commits an aggravated assault if the person commits assault as defined in Section. 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.

An aggravated assault is a felony of the second degree. Aggravated assault can become a felony of the first degree if:

  1. The defendant 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 various sections of the Family Code (dating violence, family relationships, and household relationships).
  2. Regardless of whether the offense is committed under Subsection (a)(1) or (a)(2), the victim is “a public servant acting under color of the servant's office or employment” or other public servant criteria apply.
  3. “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.
  4. “Against a person the actor knows is a process server while the person is performing a duty as a process server.”
  5. “Against a person the actor knows is a security officer while the officer is performing a duty as a security officer.

An aggravated assault may also become a felony of the first degree under other circumstances that involve a motor vehicle.

There is a presumption that a defendant knew a victim 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.”

What are possible defenses against aggravated assault charges?

Some of the defenses against aggravated assault charges include:

  • Suppression of any evidence obtained in violation of your Constitutional rights. Experienced attorneys can file court motions to suppress evidence when the police or prosecution violate your Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights which protect defendants from illegal searches and seizures, forced confessions, the right to confront the witnesses who testify against the defendants, and other protections.
  • Failure of the prosecution to meet its burden. The government needs to prove each element of the aggravated assault charge beyond a reasonable doubt. The government needs to prove, depending on which section of the law the government claims was violated:
  1. That the victim had a “serious bodily injury.”  Section 1.07 of the Texas Penal Code defines serious bodily injury as: “Bodily injury that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes death, serious permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.”
  2. That the defendant used or exhibited (displayed) a deadly weapon. The Texas penal code defines a “deadly weapon” as:
    1. “A firearm or anything manifestly designed, made, or adapted for the purpose of inflicting death or serious bodily injury or
    2. anything that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.”
  • Self-defense. We may also assert that you were justified in the aggravated assault to defend yourself from harm, that the victim consented to your conduct, or that there were additional reasons to believe the aggravated assault was justified.

A defendant can assert self-defense when he/she has a reasonable belief that they are in imminent damage of being hurt, provided the force the defendant uses to defend himself/herself is proportional and necessary to the threat. There does have to be an imminent danger. Words alone (provocation) are normally not enough to justify the use of force. Excessive force is not a justifiable response.

Deadly force may also be permissible if the defendant reasonably believed that their or another person’s life was in danger. Each case will be decided on its merit which means the defendant needs to show the threat was reasonable in the moment.

What are the penalties for an aggravated assault conviction?

The consequences of an aggravated assault conviction are very serious.

Aggravated assault is a felony of the second degree. The charge becomes a felony of the first degree if the defendant used a deadly weapon during the assault and caused bodily injury to a person whose relationship meets one of the definitions of Section 71.0021(b), 71.003, or 71.005, Family Code. A second-degree felony is punishable by two to 20 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Texas also has a “three strikes” law. This law, also known as a “habitual offender” law, applies to certain felonies including aggravated assault. A third felony conviction can result in a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 25 years. A first-degree felony can result in five to 99 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

In addition to a long-term prison sentence and a large fine, anyone with a felony record will find it hard to find a job or a place to live because background checks will reveal the felony. Felons may also lose their right to vote while serving their sentence, be forbidden from owning a firearm, and suffer other consequences.

If you are facing criminal charges of any kind, but especially aggravated assault, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Your freedom and your future may depend on it. 

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