Do you watch procedural dramas like Law & Order? You've probably heard terms like "assault," "aggravated assault" and "battery" tossed around a lot. And if you're like most people, all three terms sound an awful lot like the same thing to you. But each has a specific meaning under the law. 

What is aggravated assault? How does it differ from simple assault? Is battery a different offense or part of the same charge?

Forget every (potentially inaccurate) thing you think you learned on TV. (Law & Order is set in New York, anyway. So their laws may vary even if the writers are accurate). This is what you need to know about aggravated assault and assault charges in Texas.

Assault

According to Texas Penal Code 22.01, assault, sometimes referred to as simple assault, charges that you intentionally, knowingly or recklessly caused bodily injury to another person, threatened another person with imminent bodily harm or caused physical contact with another person you knew to be provocative or offensive.

You don't even have to touch someone to be charged with assault. If you threaten to hurt someone and they fear they're in imminent danger and call the police, you could be charged with assault. It could be as simple as poking someone in the chest or grabbing someone's rear end or other body parts.

This is usually a misdemeanor charge. It is less serious than a felony. But the penalty depends on whether you're charged with class A, B or C misdemeanor assault.

  • Class A misdemeanor (causes minor bodily harm — such as pain, a cut or bruise — or the victim is elderly or disabled even if they didn't receive injuries): up to one year in jail and fines of up to $4,000

  • Class B misdemeanor (threatening someone you know to be an athlete or sports official during the event or in retaliation for their performance during the event): up to 180 days in jail and fines of up to $2,000

  • Class C misdemeanor (threats or offensive contact that don't result in bodily harm): fines of up to $500

They might bump simple assault up to a third-degree felony charge if you assault a person you know to be a public servant; government contractor (or an employee thereof) at a correctional facility, secure treatment or rehabilitation facility; a security officer, emergency services personnel or volunteer (such as a firefighter or EMT) while the individual is performing their duties or in retaliation for their performance of duties.

They can also charge you with a third-degree felony for simple assault if the victim is a family member or domestic partner. This is known as "domestic violence." Penalties can include up to 10 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine.

They may also make you pay the victim restitution for things like medical bills, property damage or counseling.

It becomes a felony only because it is a more serious or problematic assault. It does not make it aggravated assault.

You may have heard the phrase "assault and battery" before too. That's because, in many states, battery is a separate charge (usually defined as causing someone bodily harm). In Texas, however, what other states would consider battery we include as part of the assault penal code. That doesn't mean you can't go to jail for it — only that we won't call it battery in court.

Aggravated Assault

Under state law, the definition of aggravated assault is when you intentionally, knowingly or recklessly cause serious bodily injury to another person or when you use or exhibit a deadly weapon in the course of committing any assault crime, including threatening someone with bodily injury or doing something someone will likely find offensive.

Assault vs. aggravated assault comes down to there being at least one of two aggravating factors.

Serious bodily injury: Long-term injuries are serious bodily injuries. But the injury doesn't have to be permanent to be serious. Examples include fractured or broken bones, loss of senses, permanent disability or disfigurement/scarring.  

Deadly weapon: Knives and guns are probably what most people think of when they think of assault with a deadly weapon. But the alleged weapon's primary purpose need not be weaponry to be considered a deadly weapon. It's subjective and depends on the circumstances. Think metal pipes, bats or other sporting equipment. Deadly weapons could also be objects you might throw, like rocks or bricks. It doesn't even have to be something you can see. A man in Frisco, Texas, was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The weapon in question was HIV.

When it comes to aggravated assault, Texas penalties depend on whether you're charged with a first- or second-degree felony. 

  • First-degree felony (domestic violence in which a deadly weapon caused serious bodily injury): five years to life in prison

  • Second-degree felony (when you cause serious bodily injuries or when you threaten someone with a deadly weapon): between two and 20 years in prison

And as scary as those penalties sound, there can be even harsher penalties if you're charged with a hate crime on top of aggravated assault (or on top of simple assault, for that matter). 

Have You Been Charged With Assault?

Being hit with assault charges in Texas is a very serious matter. The state has the seventh-highest incarceration rate per 100,000 people among all U.S. states. Moreover, you can make the situation worse by making mistakes that can haunt you later, such as taking a plea on a domestic violence charge (it could mean you automatically get hit with a third-degree felony if it happens again) or having contact with your alleged victim. 

Always ask for a lawyer when you're accused of criminal charges of any kind. It's your constitutional right. If you've been charged with assault or aggravated assault in Houston, Conroe or the Woodlands, contact Nonstop Justice at 832-381-3430.