Assault by contact charges in Texas are different than misdemeanor assault or aggravated assault charges. With assault by contact, the allegations indicate that an intentional act was committed against another that was “offensive.”
Assault by contact means that someone was physically contacted by an aggressor in an offensive, or harmful way. What does “offensive” mean? Isn’t this a subjective term? In this section we will discuss in detail what Texas assault law requires the State of Texas to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict you for assault by contact.
Texas Laws Regarding Assault with Physical Contact
Texas has a criminal statute that makes it illegal to assault someone by contact, even when it does not cause any physical harm. In other words, if there is no bruising, no scratches, no redness, you can still be charged with an assault by contact.
According to Texas Penal Code, Section 22.01(a)(3), a person has committed the misdemeanor offense of assault by contact if the person:
“Intentionally or knowingly causes physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.”
The offense is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine only and no jail time. Penalties are enhanced and the class of offense elevated if the person assaulted is an elderly person aged 65 or over or if the offense involves allegations of domestic violence.
This type of criminal charge is serious, and the consequences of a conviction (especially if it’s classified as elder abuse or domestic violence) can be grave. Contact an experienced assault by contact lawyer at the Hampton Law Firm today to schedule a free case evaluation.
Prosecutor Must Prove Intent to Prove Assault by Contact Charges in Texas
The very language of the Texas criminal statute requires the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the act was intentional and knowingly made in order to offend or provoke the victim. An accidental push or nudge may be annoying or offensive to the person contacted, but without proof of intent to offend or provoke, there is no criminal conduct.
If you are in a heated argument with someone, and poke their chest with your finger, you may be charged with assault by contact. You intentionally had physical contact with someone and should reasonably believe that that person will regard your finger poking them in the chest as offensive. You should also reasonably believe that if you knowingly and intentionally poke a person in the chest will provoke or offend the person you are poking.
However, what if you are walking down the grocery aisle and turn the corner and bump shoulders with another shopper cutting the corner? Is this assault by contact? Can the State of Texas prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt? Very unlikely. It may be true that the other shopper was offended by the contact and may want to prosecute you, but the State of Texas must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you had criminal intent to offend. They must prove that it was your specific intent to contact the other person to offend them. Mere contact that leads to being offensive does not, by itself, provide sufficient evidence of guilt.
Why You Should Fight the Charges
If you think that since the assault offense we are discussing is “only” a Class C misdemeanor, and the fine is “only” $500, you should just pay the fine and be done with it, think again! There are long-term ramifications that come with having an assault conviction on your record even if it is a misdemeanor.
Being convicted of assault by contact may make it difficult to get a job, particularly a job of your choice. It may even affect your ability to be promoted in your current job. Employers do not look kindly on employees who are prone to violence, which a conviction for any kind of assault implies.
Additionally, some landlords will refuse to rent to someone with an assault conviction, even a misdemeanor assault by contact conviction, since it implies violence. Having a conviction for any violent crime can have severe limitations on your private life, limit your professional and employment opportunities, and destroy your reputation.
If you are convicted of any other offense in the future, the penalty for that offense may be enhanced based on a prior conviction and possibly enhanced to a greater degree if the conviction is for a violent crime like assault. I strongly urge you to hire an assault by contact defense lawyer.
Because Assault By Contact charges are a Class C Misdemeanor, you will be required to attend a municipal court hearing. Municipal court proceedings are unlike any other criminal court setting in the criminal justice system. Under the municipal court system, you do NOT have the right to a court appointed attorney. As a result, it is common for municipal judges to try to move people quickly through the court system in order to clear their docket.
Think about it – municipal courts are the same court systems that traffic tickets are processed. What do municipal courts care about more than anything? Money! Their primary goal is to generate income for the city and to process tickets through the court system. Be very careful if you choose to represent yourself in a municipal court on an Assault By Contact case.
For example: if you represent yourself on an Assault by Contact case in Fort Worth or Arlington, Texas, it is common for the municipal judge to tell you to approach him and you must enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest. Please understand, if you plead guilty or no contest, you will be convicted and assessed a fine of up to $500. Neither the judge or the prosecutor has a legal responsibility or duty to tell you the affect of agreeing to a plea. As a result, they will tend to put pressure on you to hurry and make a decision. Choosing to plead not guilty will result in the judge asking you if you want a jury trial or bench trial. ALWAYS choose the jury trial. A jury trial on an Assault by Contact case will require a jury of six people to unanimously convict you. If you choose a bench trial, a judge may be biased against you and for the prosecution and you could lose your assault case.
You essentially have two options: (1) represent yourself and take a conviction or go to trial; (2) hire a criminal defense attorney to represent you. If you choose to hire an assault lawyer, the attorney will send a letter of representation to the municipal court and reset your docket setting to an attorney docket. At the attorney docket, the court will expect your criminal attorney to do the talking and you will not have to do anything.
It may not seem fair but an experience and aggressive assault attorney can usually obtain you more options than if you represent yourself. As we discussed earlier, if you represent yourself, you will have only the options of paying the fine and being convicted or taking your case to a jury trial and having to direct and cross examine witnesses by yourself. However, if you hire an assault lawyer, your attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor and your case may be able to be dismissed for the following reasons:
- The State of Texas cannot prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt – does your alleged victim want to prosecute you? If not, your Fort Worth assault attorney needs to provide an affidavit of non-prosecution establishing that the alleged victim has no intention of proceeding forward with the case. Unlike more serious assault cases, many times an assault by contact case can be resolved favorably if your lawyer is able to provide an affidavit of non-prosecution to the prosecutor. This will provide you leverage in negotiations and may lead to an outright dismissal of all charges. Upon receiving a dismissal of the assault charges, your criminal defense attorney can discuss with you the eligibility rules regarding expunction so that you can have the assault arrest and charge permanently removed from your criminal record.
- A Conditional Dismissal – another tactic that some experienced and aggressive assault lawyers are able to obtain is a conditional dismissal. Through the efforts of your criminal attorney, you may be able to have your assault case dismissed in exchange for certain conditions being completed. For example, if you are willing to complete a one day anger management class or perform community service or pay a lesser fine and not pick up a similar assault offense for a period of time, this will result in a dismissal of all charges. Every case is unique and it is important that your criminal lawyer go over the strategy of your assault by contact case to determine if this option is available to you.
- Jury Trial – you always have a Constitutional right to a jury trial. If the prosecutor fails to be reasonable in negotiations, your assault lawyer can demand a jury trial. At municipal court settings, if you appear at a jury trial setting with your experienced assault attorney, sometimes the prosecutor will agree to dismiss the case if the alleged victim or other witnesses do not appear. If a prosecutor persists in offering you a conviction, you have nothing to lose by taking your Assault by Contact case to a jury trial. The worst thing that can happen at a jury trial is that you have to pay a fine to the court. Jail time is unconstitutional and cannot happen. However, if your assault attorney is able to persuade the jury regarding your innocence, you will be eligible for an immediate expunction and clearing of your criminal record.
Possible Defenses for Assault With Physical Contact
One possible defense is that it did not happen. We have seen instances where the alleged victim made up the entire story and the client was not present at the scene at the time of the alleged incident. You should work with your assault attorney to gather any evidence possible to show you were not at the scene and any witness statements, receipts, photos or other alibi evidence to exonerate your name from these fraudulent charges.
You may have had no intent to offend or provoke the alleged victim and no person would have reasonably interpreted your act as one that would offend or provoke. This is a very common defense the best assault lawyers use in assault by contact cases. In today’s world, many people are offended by almost anything. Someone may not like what you said or how you looked at them and incidental contact could turn in to “offensive” contact because they don’t like you. Remember, the “offensive” contact must be objectively offensive and you must have had the criminal intent to assault them by offensive contact. Failure by the State of Texas to prove both criminal intent and objectively “offensive” contact, will result in a not guilty verdict at a jury trial.
You may also argue that you were acting to defend yourself or your property. If the alleged victim was being aggressive or assaultive towards you, you may have a good legal defense to claim self-defense. If someone is offensively assaulting you, you have a right to protect yourself or others. The State of Texas will be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were NOT acting in self defense in order to obtain a guilty verdict at trial. This is a very difficult burden of proof at trial. Your experienced and aggressive Fort Worth assault lawyer should go over the evidence in your case and sit down with you to determine if self defense or the defense of other is a viable defense for your assault charge.
Contact a Defense Attorney for Assault by Contact in Tarrant County
To ensure the best possible outcome to any assault by contact charge you may be facing in Tarrant County, seek the counsel of an experienced and aggressive defense attorney. The Hampton Law Firm and our team of experienced former Tarrant County prosecutors have the experience and knowledge necessary to help you obtain the best result possible and will work diligently to prevent this charge from becoming a conviction. Contact the Hampton Law Firm today to schedule a free and confidential case review with our criminal defense firm.