Assault on a Police Officer is considered a serious offense regardless of the state you're in. Texas, however, is especially harsh when it comes to assault in general, and even more serious when the assault involves a police officer. Assault and its related charges are all considered very violent crimes, with the accompanying high penalties and sentences that you'd expect.
If law enforcement officials have arrested you and charged you with assault, that may not be your only charge or even your main charge. Charges piled on top of other charges make for a complicated case and arrest can be frightening and have a significant effect on your future. Whether there's justification for your actions or the report of them is exaggerated, you want to fight these charges against you, rather than settle. It's important to think about representation in these instances. The prosecutor will do their best to portray you in an unflattering light, especially with an assault against a police officer charge. Having an attorney who understands the complexity and severity of the Texas judicial system means that you will have the best chance possible to fight the charges.
A Board Certified Criminal Defense attorney can help you navigate your case and fight for your right to innocence until proven guilty. Doug Murphy has 20 years of experience doing just this for clients in the Houston and greater Metropolitan area of Houston, including counties such as Harris, Madison, Liberty, Lavaca, Walker, Fayette, Brazoria, Montgomery, and Wharton. He has spent years defending clients charged with assault of a police officer and other related or violent crimes. He can help you navigate the very broad legal definition of defense, which we'll take a look at next.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF WHEN YOU THINK OF ASSAULT?
Most peoplethink of assault as a serious type of confrontation between two or more parties. As far as an assault on a police officer, you might have thought that the charge indicates that you resisted arrest or that you'd violently confronted the law enforcement official. This might be true, or it might be that your actions were much more benign.
Here are some examples of instances that might surprise you by their classification as an assault against a police officer:
- You say something in a moment of anger that creates a fear of bodily injury
- You drive too close to a police officer who is on the side of the road, pulled over (assault with a vehicle would be considered assault with a deadly weapon, or aggravated assault)
- Any minor physical contact that occurs during an arrest.
HOW IS ASSAULT DEFINED BY TEXAS LAW?
According to Texas law, Texas Penal Code Ann. § 22.01, assault covers three different types of actions.
- Deliberately threatening another person with imminent physical harm
- “Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” causing physical harm or injury to another person
- Using physical contact on a person that is knowingly offensive or provocative
It's important to know what these terms mean, as many of them are legally defined. You can look here for an overview of what the Penal Code means when it states the following terms:
- Bodily injury
- Intentional, knowing or reckless
- Provocative or offensive contact
ASSAULT VS AGGRAVATED ASSAULT
Aggravated assault is essentially the same as assault, however, it includes a gun or other deadly weapon. The facts of the case determine whether the charge is a first-degree felony or a second-degree felony.
WHAT ARE THE GENERAL ASSAULT LAWS?
The key thing to remember here is that officers, especially on-duty ones, are considered a special case when it comes to being the victim of an assault. Therefore, what could normally classify as a Class C, B, or A misdemeanor, is often instead automatically classified as a second-degree felony. In fact, it used to be classified as a third-degree felony, however as we'll discuss below, that changed in 2017. In 2017, more than 14 states introduced 32 bills designed to classify attacking police officers or other law enforcement officials as a hate crime. Although most of them were not successful, the bill introduced in Texas was.
ASSAULT OF A POLICE OFFICER IS A HATE CRIME
In 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed H.B. 2908 into law, making it a hate crime to assault a law enforcement official. The pertinent portion of the House Bill reads:
“In the trial of an offense under Title 5, Penal Code, or Section 28.02, 28.03, or 28.08, Penal Code, the judge shall make an affirmative finding of fact and enter the affirmative finding in the judgment of the case if at the guilt or innocence phase of the trial, the judge or the jury, whichever is the trier of fact, determines beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally selected the person against whom the offense was committed, or intentionally selected the person's property that was damaged or affected as a result of the offense, because of the defendant's bias or prejudice against a group identified by race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference or by status as a peace officer or judge.”
Two other portions were added in the same bill, to further clarify what was covered under the code:
“(3) notwithstanding Subdivision (2)(B), a felony of the second degree if the actor restrains an individual the actor knows is a peace officer or judge while the officer or judge is lawfully discharging an official duty or in retaliation or on account of an exercise of official power or performance of an official duty as a peace officer or judge.
SECTIONA3. Section 22.01, Penal Code, is amended by adding Subsection(b-2)to read as follows: (b-2)Notwithstanding Subsection (b)(1), an offense under Subsection(a)(1)is a felony of the second degree if the offense is committed against a person the actor knows is a peace officer or judge while the officer or judge is lawfully discharging an official duty or in retaliation or on account of an exercise of official power or performance of an official duty as a peace officer or judge.”
The highlighted portion is the addition, and while it may seem innocuous, it is not. The impact of these changes is that the assault of a law enforcement official moves from a third-degree felony charge to a second-degree felony charge, which carries with it 2 to 20 years in prison plus a fine of up to $10,000. This penalty is an increase from the “up to 10 years” in prison associated with a third-degree felony charge.
As you can see, this amendment has significant implications for your charges of assault of a police officer. That is part of why it's important to consider a Board Certified Criminal Defense attorney who can assist with executing an effective strategy for your defense.
When you're facing assault of a police officer charges, there are three main categories your case might fall under, depending on the charge that the prosecutor selects. They are:
- Third-degree felony: Up to 10 years in prison, fine of up to $10,000
- Second-degree felony: 2 to 20 years in prison, fine of up to $10,000
- First-degree felony: 5 years to life in prison, plus fine
As you can see, the type of charge makes a significant difference in the possible maximum sentences and penalties. Jail can be scary, and a conviction of assault or aggravated assault of a police officer can follow you, even after you have served your time or fulfilled the requirements of your sentence. Otherwise known as collateral consequences, these are part of why it's important to have a strategy for your defense plan.
Collateral consequences are things that impact your life after you've finished serving your sentence. When you have a felony conviction on your record, especially one that involves assault, it can affect your ability to find a job where they will hire you, it can make renting a home a challenge, and if you have visitation rights with children, it could affect your ability to see them. It's important to fight the charge of assault against a police officer because of the potential long-term impact.
REPRESENTATION FOR ASSAULT AGAINST A POLICE OFFICER
Since assault against a police officer in Texas is more serious than regular assault, if you have been charged with assault of a police officer, you are looking at a second-degree felony charge, minimum, instead of the regular Class C, B, or A misdemeanor. If you have any concerns around having a criminal record, serving jail time, or paying steep fines, you want to ensure that you hire an aggressive litigator who will fight for you against the prosecutor in a case where the law enforcement officer is considered the victim. An experienced and renowned trial lawyer can make all the difference between winning and losing your freedom.
Doug Murphy is one of only two Board Certified Criminal Attorneys in the state of Texas. He works with clients throughout the Houston metropolitan area. Doug is passionate about the right of his clients to their innocence until proven guilty, and to fighting for the best possible resolution for them. If you've been charged with assault of a police officer, contact us today for an initial consultation.