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Can I Be Convicted of Misdemeanor Assault Even if Nobody Identifies Me in Court?

A common element of misdemeanor crimes in Texas is identification. In other words, if prosecutors charge you with a misdemeanor like assault, they must somehow identify you as the assailant. And even when there is no direct evidence identifying you–such as an eyewitness statement or videotape–you can still be identified and convicted based on circumstantial evidence and inference.

Houston Court Upholds Misdemeanor Assault Conviction, 250-Day Sentence

Take this recent decision by a state appeals court here in Houston. This case actually originated in Austin. Local police responded to a 911 call reporting a possible domestic violence incident. Officers arrived at the scene and found a man–the defendant–and a woman in the apartment. An officer interviewed the woman, who told him the defendant had strangled her. The officer said he also “observed redness and an outline of some fingers around [the woman’s] neck.”

The defendant denied strangling the woman, who was his girlfriend at the time, although he acknowledged there had been a verbal argument earlier in the evening. The officer said he didn’t believe the defendant and subsequently placed him under arrest. Prosecutors charged the defendant with felony assault, but a jury ultimately returned a conviction on the lesser-included Class A misdemeanor offense of “assault causing bodily injury” and recommended a 250-day jail term.

The woman did not testify at the defendant’s trial. On appeal, the defendant argued there was “insufficient evidence” identifying him as the assailant. The Texas 14th District Court of Appeals disagreed. As the appeals court explained, under Texas law a suspect’s identity “may be proven by direct evidence, circumstantial evidence, or even inferences.” The fact the alleged victim declined to testify does not, in and of itself, defeat the prosecution’s case. Rather, the appeals court said, it is “merely a factor for the jury to consider in assessing the weight and credibility of the witnesses’ testimony.”

Here, that testimony included that of the arresting officer. It also included the alleged victim’s hospital records, which said she was “strangled” by the defendant “until she choked and almost passed out and lost bladder function.” The medical forms also identified the woman’s address as being the same as the defendant. The 14th District said this was more than enough for the jury to “infer” the alleged victim identified the defendant as her attacker, even though she never did so in court.

Contact a Houston Misdemeanor Crimes Defense Lawyer Today

The law requires proof of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” for any misdemeanor offense. But do not assume you can make reasonable doubt just because a key witness fails to show at trial or nobody personally saw you commit the alleged offense. Many people go to jail each year based entirely on circumstantial evidence and inference. If you want to avoid becoming one of them, you should speak to a qualified Houston criminal defense attorney. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston, or League City today if you have been accused of a misdemeanor and require immediate legal assistance, (281) 280-0100.