In Texas, misdemeanor assault charges are common. Some might say it’s because Texans like to fight, especially in places where alcohol runs freely. And while that may be true, the reality is that misdemeanor assault charges cover a broad range of behavior that doesn’t involve taking swings or throwing punches. For example, in Texas, you can be charged with misdemeanor assault for spitting on someone or just threatening to harm them but not actually carrying it out.
In this article, the attorneys at Varghese Summersett break down the various types of Texas misdemeanor assault charges and answer some of your most pressing questions.
What is Misdemeanor Assault in Texas?
In Texas, there are basically four categories of misdemeanor assault:
- Assault Bodily Injury (ABI)
- Assault Bodily Injury against a Family Member (ABI-FM)
- Assault by Threat
- Assault by Contact
According to Section 22.01 of Texas Penal Code, a person commits misdemeanor assault in Texas if he or she:
- intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another including their spouse (ABI and ABI-FM);
- intentionally or knowingly threatens another with imminent bodily injury (Assault by Threat); or
- intentionally or knowingly causes physical contact with another that is provocative or offensive (Assault by Contact).
What is Assault Bodily Injury (ABI)?
An Assault Bodily Injury charge stems from a person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another individual. The critical element is bodily injury. In Texas, bodily injury is defined as physical pain, illness, or impairment of physical condition. Any amount of pain, no matter how slight, is enough to legally constitute bodily injury. However, an alleged victim simply claiming discomfort will not be enough for an ABI charge.
Assault causing Bodily Injury is a Class A misdemeanor in Texas and is punishable by up to a year in jail and $4,000 in fines.
What is Assault Bodily Injury Against a Family Member (ABI-FM)?
Assault Bodily Injury Against a Family Member (or Household Member) is the same as regular ABI, except the alleged victim is a family member of the perpetrator. In Texas, family/household members include:
- Boyfriend or Girlfriend
- Ex-Spouses or Ex-Boyfriend/Girlfriend
- A family member of the alleged offender by blood, marriage, or adoption.
An Assault Bodily Injury Against a Family Member is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine if the defendant has no prior domestic violence charges. However, charges can be elevated to a felony if there is a prior family violence conviction or it involves the choking of a family member or use of a weapon.
What is Assault by Contact?
Assault by Contact occurs when someone intentionally or knowingly creates contact with another person that is reasonably offensive or provocative. Examples of this include spitting on someone or poking someone in the chest. Although it may not cause bodily injury, offensive physical contact can still be considered assault.
Assault by contact is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine. charge with fines ranging up to $500.
What is Assault by Threat?
Assault by Threat occurs when someone intentionally or knowingly threatens an individual either verbally or non-verbally, with the threat of imminent bodily injury. Assault by Threat is a Class C Misdemeanor in Texas and is punishable by up to $500 in fines. While jail time isn’t an option, you could still be left with an assault conviction on your record.
What is the Punishment for Misdemeanor Assault in Texas?
In Texas, misdemeanor assault is broken down into three categories: Class A, B, or C.
Class A Misdemeanor: A Class A misdemeanor is the most serious charge for misdemeanor assault and carries a maximum punishment of up to a year in jail and $4,000 in fines. An assault is classified as a Class A misdemeanor if bodily injury was caused. It is also a Class A misdemeanor if bodily harm was threatened to a certain subset of the population, such as the elderly.
Class B Misdemeanor: A Class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and up to $2,000 in fines. While rare, a Class B misdemeanor assault in Texas is defined as a non-sports actor threatening a sports player with bodily harm or causing offensive contact to a sports participant.
Class C Misdemeanor: A Class C is punishable by up to a $500 fine. Jail time is not an option. Class C assault includes either threatening someone with bodily harm or making offensive contact toward someone.
Along with the punishments listed above, individuals charged with misdemeanor assault charges also face collateral consequences. For example, a person convicted of ABI-FM will lose their right to carry a firearm after being convicted.
What are Possible Defenses to Misdemeanor Assault?
Just because someone has been charged with misdemeanor assault, does not mean they’re guilty. There are numerous defenses that can be raised in an assault case, including self-defense, defense of others, defense of property, duress, and necessity.
Will I Go to Jail for First-Time Misdemeanor Assault?
Hopefully not. While jail time is a possibility if you have been charged with anything other than a Class C misdemeanor, the goal would be to avoid jail time for a first-time assault. An experienced defense attorney will develop a strategy that would hopefully result in a dismissal, probation, deferred adjudication probation or a diversion program.
Is it Legal to Have a Fist Fight?
In Texas, the law permits two individuals to engage in mutual combat. Under Texas Penal Code section 22.06, a person is engaged in mutual combat if the contact did not cause serious bodily injury or threaten to cause injury, or if the alleged victim took part despite knowing the risk because of their profession.
Therefore, if two people are in a fistfight that did not cause serious bodily injury, and if there was reasonable consent based on words or body language, a mutual combat defense could be used. However, if serious bodily injury occurred or the combat was unprovoked, it likely will not hold up as mutual combat.
What is the difference between a Misdemeanor and Felony Assault Charge?
An assault charge can be elevated to a felony depending on the type of person assaulted or the manner of the assault. Felony assault includes causing injury to a child, elderly individual, disabled individual, or a family member, as well as public servants such as police officers or judges. Furthermore, you can also be charged with felony or aggravated assault if serious bodily harm was intentionally caused or if a deadly weapon was used in the assault.
How is an Assault Charge Filed?
After you are arrested for assault bodily injury, a case will be forwarded to a local district attorney’s office for review by a criminal prosecutor. Generally, one of three things will happen:
- Prosecutors will accept a case immediately upon intake;
- Prosecutors will send the case back to police for additional information or investigation and then accept it at a later date; or
- Prosecutors will reject it outright.
If a case is accepted for prosecution, you will be formally charged with assault bodily injury and required to make an appearance in court. Before your first appearance, it’s important to contact an experienced assault bodily injury lawyer in Fort Worth.
Six Things You Need to Know About Assault Charges in Fort Worth
Police and prosecutors are inclined to believe the alleged victim.
Officers make arrests based on probable cause, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. More importantly, officers’ primary duty is to protect peace and public safety. So, when they arrive at the scene of an alleged assault, they make an arrest to defuse the situation and then “let the prosecutors sort it out.” Even good police officers and prosecutors make a lot of bad assumptions.
An Affidavit of Non-Prosecution (ANP) may not be worth the paper on which it is written.
Prosecutors are skeptical of affidavits of non-prosecution from the alleged victim. In their mind, victims have may have motives for completing an ANP and keeping the defendant out of jail: love, reconciliation, monetary dependence, just to name a few. None of these are reasons for the prosecutor to dismiss a case. It’s not uncommon for prosecutors to move forward with a case or even go to trial against the alleged victim’s wishes. Navigating the troubled water to get a prosecutor to dismiss a case takes experience and skill.
The law works both ways.
In most cases, a person’s history (for better or worse) is irrelevant in the guilt-innocence phase of a trial. However, in assault cases involving allegations of family violence, Texas law says, “each party may offer testimony or other evidence of all relevant facts and circumstances that would assist the trier of fact in determining whether the actor committed the offense.” Prosecutors often use this nuance to try and backdoor in character-conformity evidence that increases the chances a defendant is convicted. But it works both ways. The law says “either party” can do this, so things that happened in the relationship before and after the alleged offense can also be brought in to fight the accusation.
What you do (or don’t do) while on bond can impact your case.
While it is true you are presumed innocent, you’re going to be bound by certain bond conditions after your arrest, including not having any contact with the alleged victim. A common mistake is trying to take matters into your own hands to circumvent bond conditions. There’s a proper way to get bond conditions changed. It takes time, but you cannot afford to have any missteps while the case is pending.
It’s important to put your best foot forward.
Just because you may not have done anything wrong, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mount an aggressive defense. Gathering mitigation materials and attending classes or performing community service to set yourself apart from others charged with the same offense may make the difference between getting a dismissal or not.
The wheels of justice turn slowly.
Some cases are resolved quickly, but this isn’t the norm. In Tarrant County, it generally takes over a year to resolve a misdemeanor assault case. Understand, however, that time is often on your side. Generally, the prosecutor’s case is not going to get any better with the passage of time. If you’re willing to stay the course, you can often leverage the outcome you’re looking for – assuming you follow your attorney’s advice in the meantime.
Facing a Misdemeanor Assault Charge? Contact Us.
If you or a loved one is charged with misdemeanor assault, it is important to have an experienced attorney representing you. At Varghese Summersett, our attorneys have decades of experience on both sides of the courtroom – first as prosecutors and now as defense attorneys. We work diligently on behalf of our clients and have a reputation for developing a relentless, unwavering defense strategy that produces favorable results. Call 817-203-2220 today for a free consultation with a member of our team.