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How “Serious” Injury Affects an Aggravated Assault Charge

One thing that elevates simple assault to aggravated assault in Texas is when the accused “commits serious bodily injury” to another person. But what exactly constitutes a “serious” injury? The Texas Penal Code considers an injury serious when it:

  • creates a substantial risk of death;
  • causes permanent disfigurement to the victim; or
  • results in a “protracted loss or impairment” to one of the victim’s organs or body parts.

Houston Defendant Convicted After Breaking Ex-Girlfriend’s Ribs

It is not always necessary for prosecutors to offer expert medical testimony to establish the “serious” nature of an accuser’s injuries. Jurors may use their own knowledge and “common sense” when assessing testimony from the accuser or other witnesses. And it does not matter if the accuser’s condition improved with treatment or  that her life was never in actual danger. The legal question is whether the defendant’s actions created a “substantial risk” of death.

Consider a recent criminal case from here in Houston. The defendant was charged with aggravated assault of a family member. Specifically, he was accused of punching his former girlfriend in the face and kicking her in the ribs. Although the woman later recanted her accusation and testified that the defendant did not assault her, the jury heard from police officers who took her initial statements saying just the opposite.

One police officer testified that he spoke to the woman about an hour after the alleged assault. The woman declined an offer of medical attention at that time. But two days later, she went to a local emergency room complaining of a “sharp pain” in her chest. Doctors diagnosed her with three broken ribs and a pneumothorax, i.e. a punctured lung. At trial, the woman testified that even nine months later, she still suffered from rib pain.

The jury found the defendant guilty. On appeal, he claimed the evidence was insufficient to establish he caused his ex-girlfriend “serious” injury as defined by law. The Houston 14th District Court of Appeals disagreed. Although the defense characterized the punctured lung as “minor,” the court noted it still “carried a substantial risk of death.” Indeed, the woman was hospitalized for four days as a result of her injuries. In addition, her ongoing rib pain qualified as “protracted impairment” of a body part. Given this, the appeals court said a “rational jury could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that [the woman] suffered serious bodily injury.”

Have You Been Accused of Aggravated Assault?

Aggravated assault is a second-degree felony in Texas. But when the victim is a family member–including someone in a dating relationship with the defendant, like in the case discussed above–it is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 99 years in prison. Given these potential consequences, it is imperative to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney if you are facing any type of serious felony charge. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Galveston, Houston, or League City to speak with a lawyer today.