When you’ve been charged with assault and battery, you’re dealing with a very serious matter. Even a seemingly minor charge can tarnish your record and open the door to more serious charges in the future. The immediate legal consequences include fines and potential jail time. The ripple effect of those consequences can be lost employment, friendships and more. What can you do in the face of an assault and battery charge?
The options for your defense lawyer start with forcing the prosecution to meet their burden of proof that the assault happened, and if it did, to prove that you had no justification. Depending on the circumstances in your case, these can be difficult standards for a District Attorney prosecutor to meet.
Assault & Battery: Similar but Not Identical
Assault and battery are phrases often used together, but they are actually two distinct crimes. Assault refers to the threat to do harm to another person. Battery refers to the physical damage itself.
It’s far more common that assault would happen without battery than vice-versa. Let’s illustrate that with this example–two people have gotten into an altercation outside The Carter on a Saturday night after the TCU football game. One person shouts words to the effect of beating up the other. Even if they don’t follow through, they could be charged with assault.
While the reverse is possible–physically hitting the person without any kind of threatening words or gestures to precede them, and thus only being charged with battery–it’s far less likely. For that reason, we’ll keep battery linked with assault for the sake of this discussion.
Proving Simple Assault
To prove assault in Texas, it must be demonstrated that the person charged acted “intentionally or knowingly,” to use the language of the Texas Penal Code. Furthermore, when dealing with simple assault (no battery involved), it must also be demonstrated that the words or gestures could only be interpreted in a threatening manner.
Let’s go back to our rowdy fans outside the stadium. Maybe one was a visiting fan, the two individuals had been seated near each other and there was considerable talking going on throughout the game. When they get outside, both are with their respective social groups, tempers are flaring, but they’re starting to go their separate ways. One shouts words to the effect of “Next time, we’ll kill you.”
On the surface, these are certainly threatening words and meet the legal definition of assault. But there is more. Could a reasonable person have interpreted the words as referring to the opposing football team–that next time the visiting team will win decisively? Sports fans everywhere–and especially football fans here in Texas–are prone to using language that identifies themselves with their teams (i.e., saying “we” to refer to the future efforts of a group of college kids).
That argument might be how the defendant, if charged, would approach this case. The defense lawyer might further point out that the opposing parties were moving away from each other. The prosecution would need witnesses to testify the nature of the in-game banter to better understand what the words outside the stadium really meant.
That’s an example with gray area and nuance. Other examples are more straightforward. One friend plays a practical joke on another, who responds with “I’ll kill you.” Even if the person speaking was genuinely angry, it’s not hard to envision reasonable ways of interpreting the words otherwise.
On the other hand, if two intoxicated individuals are arguing outside a bar, and one pulls his jacket back to reveal a gun in the holster, the prosecution’s case for simple assault is a lot easier.
Proving Assault & Battery
Presuming the assault aspect of the charge can be proven, now the battery must be established. A physical altercation should leave behind some tangible evidence.
If our combative football fans got into a melee, there were likely plenty of witnesses to attest to the actual fighting. Our hypothetical individuals outside the bar may have been alone, but it’s difficult to imagine a fight starting and no one from inside the bar coming out to see what the ruckus was about.
But not all situations have witnesses. The punch that gets thrown by one spouse against another is quite likely in the privacy of their home (it’s also domestic violence and can be charged as such). What does the prosecution do when it’s one person’s word against the other?
The obvious place to start is to look at whether there are bruises or any visible marks that would prove an altercation. Fingerprints and DNA can be introduced as evidence. The prosecution may also need to seek witnesses who, while not seeing the fight, perhaps heard plenty of threatening language in the past that would support an assault and battery charge.
If you’re not disputing the fact the assault and battery actually happened, the next step is to look at whether you had a justifiable reason for initiating a physical altercation. Texas law allows for the right to self-defense.
One standard is that you or another person must have been in imminent danger. In our example of a bar fight, let’s say that one person got increasingly threatening and it was reasonable to assume you were in physical danger. There’s nothing saying you have to wait for them to throw a punch. You can act first.
Furthermore, it will be the prosecution’s responsibility to prove otherwise. This is significant. A prosecutor might be able to prove the assault happened but disproving a claim of self-defense might not be as easy. One caveat though–if the person charged with assault initiated the verbal sparring, they cannot turn to assault and battery simply because it escalated.
You also have the right to defend your property, including against any trespassers. There’s another important caveat that applies in all cases but seems particularly relevant here–the nature of a self-defense attack must be proportionate to the danger.
This means that if someone was poking around the back of your shed and clearly harmless, you’re not likely to get away with coming up on them from behind and hitting them with a shovel just because you suspect theft. But if you ask them to leave, they refuse, things get heated and they act in a physical manner, you may have a stronger case.
Penalties for Assault & Battery
Assault and battery, depending on the circumstances, can be either a felony or misdemeanor offense, and each classification has three sub-categories within it.
Misdemeanor assaults can be considered A, B, or C. The most serious of these is A, which can result in up to $4,000 in fines and up to a year in jail. Class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months in jail and a potential fine of $2,000. Class C is the lightest, with a potential fine of $500.
Felonies can be either first-degree, second-degree, or third-degree. Even a third-degree conviction can put someone behind bars for up to ten years and see fines of up to $10,000. A second-degree charge can mean as much as 20 years in prison. It also has a minimum sentence of two years’ jail time. And someone convicted of a first-degree felony will be going to jail for at least five years and potentially get a life sentence.
There's a wide range of penalties, from life in prison on one end to $500 on the other end. But what all assault and battery convictions have in common is that they change the life of the person convicted forever.
That’s why, if you’re facing an assault and battery charge, you need vigorous defense to fight for your life and freedom. The Law Offices of Mark M. Childress, PLLC brings both the fighting spirit your defense needs and the legal savvy it requires. Call us today at (817) 497-8148 or contact us online to set up an initial consultation.