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Distinguishing Misdemeanor and Felony Assault in Texas

There is often a very fine line between a misdemeanor and felony offense in Texas. Consider the common crime of assault. The Texas Penal Code defines simple assault as “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” causing “bodily injury” to someone else. This is normally a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. However, if the defendant causes “serious bodily injury” to the victim–as opposed to merely “bodily injury”–the offense is considered aggravated assault, a second degree felony, which carries a potential prison term of between 2 and 20 years.

Court Holds Defendant Not Entitled to Misdemeanor Instruction in Bar Fight Case

But what about a scenario where you may have intended to cause bodily injury but not “serious” bodily injury? According to a recent decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, it makes no difference. You can still be convicted of the felony.

Here is what happened. The defendant and his brother assaulted the victim in the parking lot of a nightclub. Prosecutors alleged this was part of an attempt to carjack the victim, although the jury acquitted the defendant on this charge. However, the jury did find the defendant guilty of aggravated rather than misdemeanor assault.

The defendant maintained the severity of the injury he caused was not “reasonably foreseeable” to him at the time. Indeed, the victim’s own doctor backed this up in court. The doctor testified the victim’s knee was shattered, which was “a bit unusual” in the context of a “bar fight.” Such severe injuries are more commonly seen in car accidents or “falls from a height,” the doctor said.

The trial judge instructed the jury that it could hold the defendant responsible for felony assault “although [he] did not intend or contemplate that the bodily injury be ‘serious’ as long as [he] intended or had knowledge that his conduct would cause any bodily injury to the person.” The defense objected to this instruction, arguing that his “mistaken belief” regarding the victim’s potential injury entitled him to a more generous instruction. Basically, the defendant said the jury should have the option of convicting him of the misdemeanor instead of the felony.

The judge rejected this argument, as did the Court of Criminal Appeals. In a unanimous decision, the appeals court held that felony assault “does not require a culpable mental state with respect to the element of ‘serious bodily injury.’” So even if a defendant makes a “mistake” and honestly believes his actions will not cause serious injury, he is not entitled to a jury instruction on the misdemeanor. The prosecution only needs to prove the defendant had the “culpable mental state” to commit the assault itself.

Speak With a Houston Criminal Assault Attorney Today

As you can see, it does not take much to turn a misdemeanor into a felony. But even if you are only facing misdemeanor assault charges, you still need to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense lawyer who can zealously represent your interests. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, League City, or Galveston at (281) 280-0100 today if you need assistance dealing with any kind of misdemeanor criminal charge.