What is Assault?
Simply put, assault in Texas is defined as intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing injury to another. Assault is classified several different ways and punishment ranges from a fine all the way up to 20 years in jail.
The three most common assault charges are class C misdemeanors, class A misdemeanors and felony aggravated assaults. No matter which classification, a criminal charge for assault must be taken seriously. If the assault charge is not handled correctly, it could affect you for the rest of your life.
The 3 most common assault charges:
Class C Misdemeanor Assault: Causing offensive contact or making an offensive gesture.
For example – There is a disagreement and someone shoots you the “bird” and you are offended OR there is a disagreement and someone brushes up against you but does not cause pain. These are punishable by a fine of up to $500. While it may seem like a good idea to pay the fine and plea guilty, this can follow you for the rest of your life.
2. Class A Misdemeanor Assault: Contact causing bodily injury.
For example – There is a disagreement and someone brushes up against you, except this time, it causes pain. This is punishable by up 1 year in jail and up to a $4,000 fine. The threshold for “bodily injury” is incredibly low. The only requirement is the person claims they felt pain.
3. Felony Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon: causing serious bodily injury OR using or exhibiting a deadly weapon. *Seriously bodily injury usually involves the breaking of a bone. A deadly weapon can include a firearm, knife, car, or even your hands.
For example – If there is a disagreement and someone pulls out a gun, it is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
What is assault vs family violence?
If any of the scenarios above occurs between two family members or roommates, the assault has an additional classification of Family Violence. Most police departments have implanted policies that require an officer to make an arrest if someone claims family violence. For all three offenses listed, the added classification increases the collateral damage (such as your right to own or possess a firearm or your fitness to be a good parent in a custody battle). In any of these situations, it is incredibly important that your case is handled properly and by an experienced criminal defense attorney.
What is Considered Self Defense?
For violence to be considered self defense rather than assault, it must meet these criteria:
Using force against another…
when the actor reasonably believes…
that the force is immediately necessary
The Texas law on self defense is one of only a few statutes written to benefit the accused. The legislature seems to have put themselves in the shoes of the victim when crafting the language and burdens required by the law. Below, what each of those important components means…
1 ) Using force against another…
Under the law, you are permitted to match force with force OR to match deadly force with force. There are exceptions to this rule, the most common being “apparent danger.” Under apparent danger, a person who reasonably believes he is under attack or attempted attack with unlawful force has the same right to self defense as a person who is actually under attack or attempted attack with unlawful deadly force. In other words, if you were reasonable in believing someone is about to stab you, you can use deadly force. The law does not require you to know the attacker’s actual intentions.
If you are threatened with force, the law allows you to threaten deadly force. Under Texas law, the threat of force is justified when the use of force is justified. Threatening to cause death or serious bodily injury by drawing a weapon does not constitute deadly force as long as the purpose is limited to giving the impression that you will use deadly force if necessary.
2) When the actor reasonably believes…
The reasonable belief standard is measured in “the same circumstances as the accused,” meaning the jury must look at the circumstances through the lens of the accused. There is one exception: the Castle Doctrine.
Castile Doctrine: You are presumed reasonable if someone unlawfully enters or attempts to enter your home, vehicle or place of employment using force OR if someone unlawfully removes you or attempts to remove you from your home, vehicle or place of employment using force.
For example, if someone forcefully enters your home and you must defend yourself, the jury is to presume you are reasonable, they do not need to go through the exercise of deciding whether or not you are reasonable.
You are also presumed reasonable if someone is committing or attempting to commit aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery or aggravated robbery.
3) That force is immediately necessary
Whether the force is immediately necessary is for the jury to determine using the evidence presented in trial. In Texas, there is no legal duty to retreat, so the jury should not consider whether or not you failed to retreat.
For example, you are at a park and someone threatens your life and pulls out a gun. You may pull your gun and you are not required to retreat. Words alone are not enough to warrant action on your part.
Self Defense on Trial
There are unique “goods” and “bads” when on trial for a self defense case.
Good: Once self defense is claimed during a trial the government must disprove self defense beyond all reasonable doubt, adding to the pile of what they must prove.
Bad: In order to receive the protection of self defense, you are essentially required to waive your 5th Amendment right not to testify. This means you’re required to stand and testify in your own defense. Texas established this through case law over the last several decades.
With this, it is incredibly important to have a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer helping you with your case and your testimony. Call the Sparks Law Firm if you are on trial for a self defense case.