Aggravated assault is frequently charged in the Houston area. Although all aggravated assaults are charged as felonies with potentially serious consequences, many cases are eventually dismissed, or a defendant is found not guilty at trial. This article addresses some frequently asked questions regarding aggravated assault cases.
What makes a regular assault case an aggravated assault case?
An aggravated assault case can be thought of as a regular assault case plus some additional fact that makes it “aggravating,” such as serious bodily injury. Most bar fights, for example, are charged as Class “A” misdemeanor assaults because fist fights typically do not result in serious bodily injury. But if the complaining witness suffers serious bodily injury – which is defined as an injury that creates a substantial risk of death or the impairment of the use of any organ – a bar fight could be charged as an aggravated assault.
Aggravated assault can also be committed by exhibiting a deadly weapon. In these instances, there does not need to be an injury or even physical contact. An aggravated assault can be charged if a weapon is simply pointed at another person, or exhibited in a threatening manner (even without pointing).
What is the sentencing range for an aggravated assault case?
Aggravated assaults are charged as either Second-Degree felonies with a potential sentence of 2-20 years in prison, or First-Degree felonies, with a potential sentence of 5-99 years, depending on how it is alleged that the aggravated assault was committed and against whom.
What bond conditions can I expect in an aggravated assault case?
Bond conditions in an aggravated assault case can vary depending on the nature of the allegation, the prosecutor and judge assigned to a case, and the criminal history of the defendant. Typically, there will be standard bond conditions that could limit travel, prohibit possessing a firearm and prohibit the consumption of drugs and alcohol. There is also usually a “no contact” order prohibiting a defendant from directly or indirectly contacting the complaining witness, or going near their home or work. Depending on the seriousness of the allegations, the judge may also require a defendant to obtain a GPS device to make sure any restrictions are not violated.
How can my bond conditions be modified?
Very frequently, bond conditions in a criminal case will make it difficult or impossible for a person to work or live a normal life. This can happen for a variety of reasons. If a bond condition in an aggravated assault case is creating serious problems for a defendant, a criminal defense attorney can ask the judge to modify the problematic bond conditions.
To modify a bond condition, a criminal defense attorney can file a Motion to Modify bond conditions explaining why complying with the bond conditions is impractical or impossible. Then, a criminal defense attorney can talk to the judge and ask him to sign the Motion to Modify Bond conditions. Usually, a reason to modify bond conditions has to rise above the level of inconvenience (i.e. a judge assumes that no one like to wear a GPS device) before a judge will consider granting it.
What happens if I violate my bond conditions in an aggravated assault case?
Violating a condition of bail in an aggravated assault case is something that should be avoided at all costs. If a defendant violates a condition of bail – by contacting the complaining witness, for example – the court could order that the defendant’s bond be revoked and raised, or order additional bond conditions, such as electronic monitoring, or a curfew.
When an aggravated assault case involves an allegation of family violence, then there could be additional consequences, such as a new criminal charge for violation of a protective order under Texas Penal Code 25.07, and the denial of bond after a defendant’s bond is revoked (the violation of a bond condition in a case alleging family violence is one of the few situations where a person may be held without bail under Texas law).
Beyond potential consequences to a person’s bail or bond conditions, violating bond conditions in an aggravated assault case will make it more difficult for your criminal defense attorney to obtain an excellent result in your case. In some cases, a criminal defense attorney will want to argue that an allegation made against a defendant was an anomaly and not representative of who the defendant really is. If a defendant is violating his bond conditions, such an argument is much less likely to persuade a prosecutor or judge.
How quickly do I need to hire an aggravated assault lawyer?
Contrary to what some less-than-reputable defense attorneys may tell you, there is typically no urgent need to hire an attorney in an aggravated assault case. After you bond out of jail and begin going to court, your attorney will need to begin the process of gathering evidence in order to be able to evaluate the case and determine the best strategy to defend the case. You will need to hire an attorney sooner rather than later, but you should be wary of high-pressure sales tactics.
Of course, there are situations where a lawyer should act quickly. In some instances, it is a good idea to have a lawyer with you in a first court setting if bond conditions are going to be addressed as it can often be better to address bond conditions at the first court setting, rather than going back to court later and asking that bond conditions be modified. Also, although it is preferable that your criminal defense attorney conduct interviews with witnesses after the evidence is received for strategic reasons it is sometimes better for a criminal defense attorney to act quickly to take witness statements.
How long will my aggravated assault case take?
The length of your case can vary depending on how it is ultimately resolved. A dismissal can occur at any time but it is rare for a case to be dismissed sooner than 2-3 months. If your case goes to trial, that can take a year or more (and many cases are not dismissed until they are about to go to trial).
As noted above, in order for a criminal defense attorney to properly defend an aggravated assault case, he will first need to obtain the evidence. In the Houston area, it can take six months or more before all of the evidence is received. Once the evidence is received, a criminal defense attorney can push for a dismissal. If the case is not dismissed (and only the prosecutor can dismiss the case), then at some point, a defendant must choose between a plea agreement and a trial.
Should I file a Grand Jury Packet in an aggravated assault case?
A Grand Jury packet is something that should be considered in an aggravated assault case. In felony cases, all cases are presented by the prosecutor to the Grand Jury, which will decide whether there is probable cause for a case to be indicted. A Grand Jury packet is a group of documents provided to the Grand Jury in the hopes of persuading it to find that there is no probable cause in a case (a so-called “no bill”). A “no bill” will lead to the dismissal of an aggravated assault case.
An experienced criminal defense attorney will recommend filing a Grand Jury packet only when the conditions are optimal. A Grand Jury packet is essentially the defense’s playbook and often contains facts and arguments that the prosecutor would have no way of otherwise knowing. If a Grand Jury packet is unlikely to succeed, then by providing a Grand Jury packet to the prosecutor, a defendant is helping the prosecutor prepare for a potential trial without getting anything in return.
At Ceja Law Firm, we get several cases not billed by the Grand Jury every year. But we need a strong defense (like self-defense or proof that an accusation was fabricated), a sympathetic defendant, and a prosecutor that is either on our side or neutral. Because most aggravated assault cases are indicted within the first 2-3 months, it is important to make a decision as to whether or not to file a grand jury packet as soon as possible.
How can I keep an aggravated assault charge off of my record?
For most people, keeping an aggravated assault charge “off of” their record refers to a dismissal or acquittal (“not guilty”), or a deferred adjudication probation.
A deferred adjudication probation, if completed successfully, may qualify for a non-disclosure (also known as getting your records “sealed”). A non-disclosure keeps an aggravated assault case off of your record by making it so most private entities cannot see a record of your arrest. After a non-disclosure is granted, you are even allowed to deny the existence of the arrest for many purposes.
Although a non-disclosure is good, the best possible result in an aggravated assault case is an expunction. An expunction results in records relating to your arrest being destroyed, not just sealed from view from certain entities. In order to qualify for an expunction, however, you must have received an acquittal at trial, or your case must have been dismissed (and some dismissals will not be eligible for an expunction).
What is the cost of an aggravated assault case?
The financial toll of an aggravated assault case can vary greatly depending on the facts of your case and the outcome. While you are on bond, you can expect to pay a small monthly supervision fee, plus the cost of electronic monitoring, if that is ordered. Electronic monitoring can cost as much as $400 although fortunately, many judges in the Houston area are willing to waive the fees.
If you are placed on probation, there could also be supervision fees of $60-100 dollars a month, plus the costs of electronic monitoring (unless it is waived), and the cost of classes or programs, if ordered by the court. A judge can also order restitution, which is a condition of probation if it is alleged that the complaining witness sustained injuries.
The cost of an attorney can range from several hundred dollars for a cheap attorney (and in the world of criminal defense, you usually pay for what you get), to tens of thousands for an experienced, high-end attorney. When shopping for an attorney, of course, cost should not be the only factor to consider. You should look to find an attorney with a good reputation and as much relevant experience as possible, who has a clear strategy for defending aggravated assault cases.
Does it matter if I am accused of using a deadly weapon?
If it is alleged that a defendant committed an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, that can have important consequences. One of the most important consequences is that if you are convicted at trial, and there is a finding that a deadly weapon was used, only the jury may place you on probation under Texas law (in Texas, a defendant can elect whether to have a judge or jury assess punishment in the event of a guilty verdict). If prison time is assessed, the use of a deadly weapon can also affect parole eligibility.
How can I get an aggravated assault case dismissed?
In general, aggravated assault cases are dismissed when the case against a defendant is weak, a Grand Jury packet is filed and the case is “no-billed,” or the State has a problem with its case, such as a missing witness. Before your criminal defense attorney determines what the best strategy is to defend your aggravated assault case, he should obtain the evidence. Then, it is critical that he conducts his own investigation and obtain witness statements for anyone who saw the event and if possible, the complaining witness.
If a Grand Jury packet is not filed in your case, a criminal defense attorney should be very strategic in how he shares information with the prosecutor. Many ineffective defense attorneys will simply turn over the fruits of their investigation to the DA’s office without any type of guarantee that they will get anything in return.
The reality is that many aggravated assault cases must be set for trial. By setting a case for trial, a defense attorney puts maximum pressure on the District Attorney’s office, which often results in a dismissal. However, it is not a good idea to bluff. A case should only be set for trial if the defense is willing to go to trial. This is why it is critical to have an experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner to defend an aggravated assault case.
What should I do to help my aggravated assault case get dismissed?
Many defendants charged with aggravated assault understandably want to be proactive to help ensure a good result. However, it is best that a defendant speaks with a criminal defense attorney before taking any steps to help the case. It would generally be a bad idea for a defendant to attempt to obtain witness statements, for example, without consulting with an attorney. One thing that a defendant can do to help is to be in strict compliance with any bond conditions assessed by the court. As noted above, bond violations can complicate a criminal defense attorney’s job in an aggravated assault case.
Attorney Jose Ceja regularly obtains excellent results in aggravated assault cases throughout the Houston area. If you are charged with aggravated assault, call Ceja Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation.