Fights happen at school. From tussling on the playground to serious brawls in high school hallways, fighting is a fact of life in any school system. But what happens when your child is involved? When does a schoolyard brawl become a battery? What happens if someone charges your adult child in college with assault or battery? While Texas schools may use their graduated system of punishment rather than involve the police, an assault can still result in your child's suspension or expulsion from school, despite how the criminal case plays out.
Assault and battery are criminal offenses, and you should take them seriously. If your high school or college student's school begins disciplinary proceedings for assault or if the police arrest your child for assault and battery, you should contact an attorney well versed in criminal law and educational discipline law. Attorney Doug Murphy is a board-certified criminal defense attorney with two decades of experience defending assault and battery charges in Texas and experience handling school disciplinary proceedings in Texas.
What are Assault and Battery?
Assault and battery are two distinct crimes. An assault generally happens when the perpetrator threatens the victim with bodily harm. A battery occurs when the perpetrator makes actual physical contact with the victim, which is "injurious or offensive" in nature. However, in Texas, battery isn't a charge. Instead, the police will charge the defendant with the more severe crime of assault.
Texas Penal Code §22.01, et. seq, covers assault and states that a person commits an assault if they:
1. intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another, including the person's spouse;
2. intentionally or knowingly threatens another with imminent bodily injury, including the person's spouse; or
3. 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.
Categories of Assault
There are several categories of assault.
· Class C Misdemeanor
The law classifies assault as a class C misdemeanor if the defendant threatens the victim with harm or makes non-injurious physical contact with the defendant that is either offensive or provocative.
· Class B Misdemeanor
If the defendant threatens someone participating in sports with bodily harm during sports or in retaliation for performance in the sport, the law classifies the assault as a class B misdemeanor.
· Class A Misdemeanor
The law classifies assault as a class A misdemeanor if the defendant causes physical injury to the victim with no other aggravating factors or if the defendant makes offensive or provocative contact with an elderly person.
· Third-Degree Felony
Assault may be a third-degree felony if:
1. domestic violence is involved, and the defendant was convicted of a similar charge in the past;
2. the defendant knowingly assaults a security officer doing their job;
3. the defendant knowingly assaults a public servant or family services contractor performing their job, or as retaliation for performing their job; or
4. the defendant assaults an emergency services worker performing their job.
· Second-Degree Felony
Law enforcement may charge a defendant with a second-degree felony if the defendant assaults someone with whom they have a domestic relationship by choking the victim, and the defendant has a conviction for a similar assault against the victim. An aggravated assault is a second-degree felony that occurs if the defendant seriously injures the victim or uses a weapon.
· First Degree Felony
Aggravated assault is a first-degree felony if committed against someone with whom the defendant has a domestic relationship or a public official, police office, emergency worker, security guard, witness, or informant.
Once your child reaches the age of 17, they are considered an adult within the criminal justice system. If the court tries your child as a juvenile, its disposition may be different from the punishment handed down to an adult.
Criminal Penalties for Assault Conviction
The penalties for an assault conviction vary based on the severity of the crime.
Class C Misdemeanor
Fine of up to $500
Class B Misdemeanor
Up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000
Class A Misdemeanor
Up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000
Third Degree Felony
Up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000
Second Degree Felony
Two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000
First Degree Felony
Five years in prison plus a fine
If your child goes through the juvenile justice system, they will face a range of punishments that are similar to adults. However, prison time can involve commitment to the Texas Juvenile Department until their 19th birthday or placement on probation that can last until their 18th birthday. In the case of a felony conviction, however, the state can seek a determinative sentence that would allow a longer prison sentence to be handed over to the adult justice system once your child is an adult. The state can also seek to have a juvenile tried as an adult.
Common Defenses to Assault Charges
There are some defenses to assault under Texas law. An affirmative defense is one where you admit to having done what resulted in your assault charge, but you have a legal justification for doing it. Under Texas Penal Code §22.06, consent is an affirmative defense to assault if the victim consented to the assault of the defendant reasonably believed the victim consented and:
1. the defendant didn't threaten or inflict serious bodily injury; or
2. the defendant knew that the assault was a risk of their occupation, recognized medical treatment, or a scientific experiment conducted with accepted methods.
Consent isn't a defense if the consent is a condition of initiation or continued membership in a criminal street gang. Self-defense is a general defense to assault in Texas if used to protect yourself, your property, or another person you believe to be in imminent danger. However, self-defense is only a viable defense if you did not provoke the assault.
Assault and Battery in Texas High Schools
If your student assaults someone at school or out of school, there may be academic consequences, and your child may be subject to a school disciplinary proceeding. Texas schools have a wide range of disciplinary tools at their disposal, including:
· Loss of privileges in the school or classroom
· Behavior contracts to improve behavior with parental input
· In and out of school suspension
· Reassignment to a new teacher
· Community service such as picking up trash
· Disciplinary Alternative Education Program, assigning the student to a new school for some time
However, under Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code, a school must take specific actions against a student involved in an assault and battery.
· The school must expel the student if a student commits an aggravated assault on or off school property.
· If a student commits an assault with bodily injury on school property, within 300 feet of school property, or at a school-related opportunity, the school must remove the student from school and place them in a disciplinary alternative education program.
· For fighting or scuffling, a student can face in-school suspension, out of school suspension for up to three days, other disciplinary procedures, and placement in a disciplinary alternative education program.
For more serious punishments, your student may have some limited appeal rights. While Texas law only mandates formal appeals in the case of expulsion, for penalties like the Disciplinary Alternative Education Program and suspensions, some school districts may allow informal appeals such as meeting with a school principal or an appeal to the school board. In some school districts, there is no right to appeal any disciplinary action other than expulsion.
Your child's school should set forth appeal and due process rights in the Student Code of Conduct or through school district policy documents, but policies vary widely by school district. As you can see, an assault conviction, even if the incident happened outside of school, can have severe consequences for a child's education and academic future.
Assault and Battery in Texas Colleges
There are more than 170 colleges and universities in the state of Texas, enrolling more than 800,000 students. There are 31 secondary educational institutions in the Houston area alone, and all of them handle allegations of assault, on and off-campus, differently. In some cases, campus conduct boards act like criminal courts, but the students, employees, and administrators that sit on these boards are rarely attorneys or have any formal legal training. Each school generally sets out its code of conduct and disciplinary proceedings in student handbooks, including possible sanctions and appeal rights.
Again, sanctions vary from school to school, but many college student conduct boards can hand down sentences that range from written warnings and probation to suspensions and expulsion. The repercussions of having a violent assault on your child's college record can be severe. If the school expels your student, it may be challenging to gain admission to another college. If the school suspends your child, they may lose academic credit, scholarships, or grants.
Title IX Violations in Texas Colleges
In some cases, assault and battery can also be considered a potential violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 ("Title IX"), 20 U.S.C. §1681 et seq. Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded educational institutions. The law states:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
Under Title IX, schools must investigate and remediate incidents that could fall under this legislation, like sexual assault, assault, and battery, coercion, or sexual harassment. Many colleges and universities will aggressively pursue investigations and quasi-judicial punishments against students accused of assault. Students can be kicked out of campus housing, removed from classes, be expelled, or have a diploma withheld or revoked.
If your child's school is investigating a Title IX violation or pursuing a disciplinary hearing for assault, you need to contact an attorney well versed in education and student discipline law right away. The Doug Murphy Law Firm can ensure your child's school does not railroad them through a quick investigation and conviction.
Consequences of an Assault Conviction
Personally and academically, an assault conviction can be life-altering. A violent assault, even if classified as a misdemeanor, is serious and can result in jail time and hefty fines. If your child has multiple offenses, their punishment will be even more severe. If convicted as an adult, assault charges will remain on your child's record for life. Even if your child is tried and convicted in the juvenile system, their school can and will proceed with school disciplinary proceedings. The conviction can result in expulsion, an alternative school placement, and a permanent notation in school records. As a result, colleges and the military could reject your child's applications. Your child could be unable to hold public office and ineligible for jobs that require security clearances or working with the public.
Finding the Right Attorney
If your child is facing assault and battery charges through the criminal justice system, a Texas high school disciplinary proceeding, or a Texas college disciplinary proceeding, it's essential to have experienced legal representation. The consequences of an unwarranted conviction will follow your child for the rest of their life. Your attorney must be able to ensure that your student's school gives your child the due process to which they are entitled and a fair hearing. If not, a conviction could interrupt or derail your child's education and ruin your child's personal, academic, and professional future.
Your student needs aggressive, knowledgeable representation. While many Texas attorneys may claim expertise in criminal or student defense, you want a defense attorney with a proven record of success. The attorneys at the Doug Murphy Law Firm are Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, an achievement very few Texas attorneys reach. Our attorneys have proven success in the courtroom and are sought as experts on criminal law by other attorneys throughout the state. If your child is facing assault charges in or out of school, call us at 713-229-8333 or contact us online.