There is a special section in the Texas Penal Code for assault on a public servant. What is a public servant? A public servant is someone who works for the government at the state or local level. In general, these are the people who create and enforce our laws. Among others, these people are police officers, DPS state troopers, sheriff's deputies, prosecutors and other government employees. For more on who is a public servant, read below. The concept of a public servant is broad includes many different types of professions. Many people get upset with our government, how it is run, and upset with the individuals who are tasked to run the government and enforce the laws. However, if these tempers rise and frustrations reach a level where a person reacts physically, they can find themselves facing serious criminal charges. There can be heavy penalties if you are facing this accusation. Assault public servant is significantly more serious than a normal assault.
Assault Public Servant is a Third Degree Felony
The Texas Legislature who drafted the law wanted to make assaulting a public servant harsher than a regular assault. Assault is already a serious crime that can have consequences for your future. However, assault bodily injury is a class A misdemeanor. Assault public servant is a third degree felony in Texas. This means that it carries a range of punishment of between two and ten years in Texas prison and up to a $10,000 fine. When you are dealing with a charge that carries the possibility of prison time, this is not to be taken lightly. Defending a felony means the stakes are higher. If you are facing a felony, your case will be in District Court, instead of County Court. Your case will be indicted. To be indicted, the case goes through the grand jury process. Assault of a public servant is exactly the same crime as assault bodily injury, but with two added elements: the alleged victim must be a public servant, and the person being charged knows the victim is a public servant. Here is the statute for assault bodily injury:
Section 22.01. Assault.
A person commits an offense if the person:
Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another, including the person’s spouse;
Simple assault that causes bodily injury is a Class A misdemeanor. This carries a range of punishment of up to one year in County jail and up to a $4,000 fine. Assault public servant is a more serious crime. Here is the pertinent portion of the assault statute concerning assault public servant with the added elements:
An offense under (a)(1) is a Class A misdemeanor, except that the offense is a felony of the third degree if the offense is committed against:
a person the actor knows is a public servant while the public servant 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 public servant;
Who Exactly is a Public Servant?
Public servants are the employees of some branch of our government on either a federal, state, or local level. It is their job to settle disputes, enforce the laws, or create the laws across the United States and across Texas. Generally, the people we are talking about are sometimes derisively referred to as “the man.” On a federal level we are talking about Congressman, from the House of Representatives, Senators, Federal Judges such as Supreme Court Justices, and even The President. Also, this includes many, many others who work in various capacities across our huge government. However, if you assault any of the above people you will probably bite off more than a felony charge. You may be killed. If not, you will be fighting your case in Federal Court. If you assault any public servant who is a federal employee, you will be charged with a different in a Federal Court. Public servant is defined in the Texas Penal Code. However, we are not just dealing with judges, police officers, and the like. The category is broad and encompassing. It includes candidates who are running for office and other tangential employees and contracted employees who are operating in some governmental function. Here are the definitions from the Texas Penal Code:
Definition of Public Servant. Texas Penal Code Section 1.07
(41) “Public servant” means a person elected, selected, appointed, employed, or otherwise designated as one of the following, even if he has not yet qualified for office or assumed his duties:
(A) an officer, employee, or agent of government;
(B) a juror or grand juror; or
(C) an arbitrator, referee, or other person who is authorized by law or private written agreement to hear or determine a cause or controversy; or,
(D) an attorney at law or notary public when participating in the performance of a governmental function; or,
(E) a candidate for nomination or election to public office; or,
(F) a person who is performing a governmental function under a claim of right although he is not legally qualified to do so.
This list is expansive and includes many different vocations and titles. Basically anyone who is elected for office, and all employees of the government are included. Public servants are employees of the State of Texas or one of the Counties, Cities, or Municipalities throughout Texas. However, it is very important that if you are charged with this crime, you must know that the person is a public servant, and the public servant must be discharging their official duties. Basically, they must be at work at the time of the assault. If you punched a police officer because you got into a sports argument at a bar, and that officer was wearing street clothes, then that is not assault of a public servant. That is simple misdemeanor assault.
Assault on Police Officers
Most often, in an assault of a public servant case, the public servant is a police officer. Police officers are certainly in a unique position to be the recipient of an assault and then immediately make an arrest. When you stop and think about it, it really is sort of a bizarre situation to have a crime in which the victim of an assault and the arresting officer are one and the same. Nevertheless, it is obvious why many of these charged offenses are an assault of a police officer. Police officers are in a position to make an arrest. Obviously, there is no need to call the police. And it doesn’t take much to get charged with this. When people hear this charge, they often imagine the worst. Sometimes, a person will very unwisely punch a police officer with a closed fist.
However, I have seen many cases that get charged for much less and are murky. Recklessly causing bodily injury means that a person can get charged with assault public servant charge and it is the result of purely accidental conduct. A person can accidentally bump or hit an officer and still get charged. In the heat of an arrest things can happen fast, perhaps an elbow accidentally strikes an officer and causes pain. When police officers step in to break up a fight between two people, an officer can also easily catch an elbow or a fist without any intention. Sometimes in these assault on police officer cases, the incident is recorded on a body camera. Sometimes, there will be a third party who records it on a smart phone. Assault is a crime that is usually not often caught on film. Assault is a crime that occurs in the heat of the moment in the privacy of someone's home.
Intentionally, Knowingly, Recklessly - What Do They Mean?
You don’t have to “mean to.” The Texas Penal Code states that it is an offense to “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” cause bodily injury to a public servant. Recklessly essentially means accidentally and carelessly. Generally, when people hear that a person assaulted a police officer, in their minds they imagine someone punching a cop in the face or something equally as deliberate. That would certainly qualify as intentional behavior, in which there was an intention to cause pain to the officer. However, in my experience defending these cases it is the exception rather than the rule that a person just strikes a police officer. More often, it is “reckless” conduct that is alleged. The charge stems from an altercation in which the officer is trying to make an arrest. Many times the incident will happen all of the sudden. I have seen many cases in which the person doesn’t really have a clear understanding or memory of what happened. If an elbow flies up and strikes the officer or even if a person bumps into the officer, a charge can result.
The person being charged with the crime must know the alleged victim is a public servant. This is very important. Most police officers are in uniforms that clearly establish they are police officers, but some are not. Sometimes police officers are working undercover, and detectives often don’t wear the distinctive navy blue uniform. If a plainclothes police officer is the alleged victim, there may be a good argument for reducing the charge. If you or a loved one is confronting this criminal charge, please call me and let's discuss your case. I offer a free consultation and I am happy to sit down with you and discuss your options and go over the possible consequences in your case. I work in Tarrant, Dallas, Parker, Johnson, as well as in surrounding Counties. I work all around Texas and I love to travel and help people.
The Need for Great Criminal Representation
If you or someone you love is being accused of a crime—and especially felony level assault—it is very important to meet with and hire good representation. A felony charge carries with it a lot of baggage. People facing a felony charge have a lot of fear and anxiety about how things will go, and there is a lot of uncertainty. It should be a priority very early in the process to consult with and hire a criminal defense attorney who has handled these cases, who knows how to work them, and who has had success working them. There can be many consequences that result from these allegations.
Each Case is Different and Unique
Each case is different. Depending on the facts of your case, there are many ways to go about defending the allegation. The first thing that I do when clients come into my office is to listen to their story and take a lot of notes. Then I tell them my impressions of the case and together we begin to outline our goals and develop a strategy. What result do we need? What do we want? What do we think we can get? These are the honest questions that we will try to answer when we first sit down to examine the case. However, there are missing pieces to the puzzle. There is the evidence against you. This is also called discovery. When I sign onto a case, and get entered into the system as attorney of record, I will receive the evidence. In an assault public servant case, the evidence will consist of several items. The first thing to look at is the police report or reports. This is the officer's side of what happened. Depending on which police agency made the arrest, there may be a video. There are dash cameras in police vehicles and many police departments have their officers wear body cameras. There may also be statements from other witnesses if there are any. Each case is different and must be treated differently. There are many paths to victory in a criminal case. If you call my office, we will sit down and have that initial meeting where we discuss goals and realities. What I tell people who meet with me is to go with the attorney you feel comfortable with. No matter which lawyer you choose, you need to consult with a criminal lawyer to discuss your options and plan out your defense.