Law Glossary

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Assault:There are many different kinds of assault offenses under Texas law. Several of the most common are discussed below.

The least serious types of assaults are called "Assault by Contact" or "Assault by Threat". These charges apply where a Defendant has either touched someone in an offensive manner or threatened to cause someone physical harm. In most cases these charges are Class C Misdemeanors.

The next grade of assault is referred to as "Assault Causing Bodily Injury". Unlike Assault By Contact, this offense requires that the contact have been more than just "offensive" - the victim must actually have experienced some level of pain. There is no requirement that there be any visible injury, merely that the victim felt pain. Generally, this type of Assault is a Class A Misdemeanor.

"Aggravated Assault" encompasses cases where the Defendant has caused "serious bodily injury" to another person, or where the Defendant uses or exhibits a "deadly weapon" during the assault. Serious bodily injury means a n injury that causes or creates a substantial risk of death, causes serious permanent disfigurement, or causes protracted loss or impairment in function of any body part or organ. A deadly weapon is defined as 1) a firearm, 2) any device designed, made, or adapted for the purpose of inflicting death or serious bodily injury, or 3) anything that "in the manner of its use or intended use" is capable of causing serious bodily injury. Aggravated assault is generally a second degree felony but may be charged as a first degree felony if committed against a public servant, witness or informant, or a security officer.

Class A Misdemeanor: Punishable by a fine ranging from $0 up to $4,000 and jail time from 0 days up to 365 days.

Class B Misdemeanor: Punishable by a fine ranging from $0 up to $2,000 and jail time from 0 days up to 180 days.

Class C Misdemeanor: Generally punishable by a fine only, ranging from $0 up to $500.

Community Supervision: This is another name for "probation". When a Defendant is placed on community supervision, he or she is technically sentenced to serve some period of time in jail. However, that jail sentence is suspended, pending the Defendant's compliance with certain conditions, such as community service. If the Defendant complies with all conditions placed on him or her, the jail sentence is never imposed. If, however, the Defendant fails to comply with all conditions placed on him or her, the State may file a motion to revoke the Defendant's community supervision. A hearing is then held and, if the Court determines that the Defendant did indeed violate a condition of his or her community supervision, then the original jail sentence is imposed.

Deferred Adjudication: This is a special type of community supervision (probation) whereby the Defendant enters a plea of guilty but the Judge defers the actual finding of guilt against the Defendant. Accordingly, the Defendant is not convicted of the crime he or she was charged with. The Defendant will be placed on community supervision for a period of time and, if he or she complies with all conditions, at the conclusion of the period the charge will be dismissed. If the Defendant fails to comply with all conditions a hearing held and, if the Court determines that the Defendant did indeed violate a condition of his or her community supervision, the Judge may proceed to find the Defendant guilty based on their plea. The Judge may also sentence the Defendant to an amount of jail time within the full range of punishment for the offense.

Examining Trial: When a Defendant has been arrested for a felony level offense, but has not yet been indicted, he or she has the right to an examining trial. The purpose of an examining trial is for the Judge to determine whether or not there is probable cause to believe the Defendant committed the crime he or she is charged with. If the Judge finds there is no probable cause, the Defendant is entitled to be released. This does not, however, prevent the Grand Jury from eventually indicting the Defendant.

Expunction: Punishable by a fine from $0 up to $10,000 and penitentiary time of 5 to 99 years.

Grand Jury: The Grand Jury is a group of citizens who determine whether or not to indict Defendants charged with a felony. Unlike a trial by jury, Grand Jury proceedings are closed and the Defendant has no right to participate or even be present.

Implied Consent: Under Texas law, anyone arrested for DWI or BWI (Boating While Intoxicated) is deemed to have consented to taking a breath test. This is the reason a Defendant's drivers license can be suspended if he or she refuses to take the test. This is also the reason a blood sample can be taken from an unconscious person - they are deemed to have consented and, since they are unconscious, cannot refuse the test.

Indictment: This is the document, filed with the court, which sets out the charge against the Defendant. An indictment is usually used to charge a felony level offense.

Information: This is the document, filed with the court, which sets out the charge against the Defendant. An indictment is usually used to charge a misdemeanor level offense.

Incompetence: When a Defendant lacks sufficient ability to consult with his or her attorney with a reasonable degree of understanding, or lacks a rational or factual understanding of the proceedings against him or her, the Defendant may be found incompetent to stand trial. Unlike a finding that a Defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity, a finding of incompetence does not end the legal proceedings. Instead an incompetent Defendant will be committed to a mental health facility and, upon regaining competence, the charges against the Defendant may proceed.

Insanity: A person who commits a crime may be excused from responsibility for it if he or she was legally insane at the time the crime was committed. Generally, to be legally insane, a Defendant must suffer from a mental disease or defect so severe that he or she could not understand that the act they commit is wrong.

Intoxication: Under Texas law, there are three ways that a person may be "intoxicated" for purposes of a DWI charge. A person may be intoxicated if 1) his or her breath alcohol concentration is greater than or equal to 0.08, 2) they have lost the normal use of their physical faculties or, 3) they have lost the normal use of their mental faculties. Any one of the definitions is sufficient to support a finding of intoxication. This is the reason the State can prosecute a Defendant for DWI even if the Defendant took a breath test which was less than 0.08.

Miranda Warnings: When the police arrest a person, they are required to give that person the well-known Miranda Warnings before they can interrogate him or her. If the police interrogate someone without giving them the Miranda Warnings, any statement made by the person will be inadmissible at that person's trial. However, contrary to popular belief, the fact that the police fail to give them their Miranda Warnings does not make their arrest "illegal". The police are only required to give the Warnings if they plan to interrogate the arrested person.

Nolo Contendere: This type of plea is usually referred to as a "No Contest" plea. In essence, it means that the Defendant is not admitting guilt but does not desire to fight the charge. A Defendant who pleads nolo contendere will still be found guilty by the Court. The advantage of the nonlo contendere plea is that it cannot be used against the Defendant in subsequent civil litigation. It should be noted that, in Collin County, the District Attorney's Office, generally refuses to make plea offers for anything other than "guilty" pleas.

Order of Non-Disclosure: This is a procedure whereby a Defendant who successfully completes a deferred adjudication can obtain a court order prohibiting, in most circumstances, criminal justice agencies from disclosing information relating to his or her charge. It is not, however, the complete legal eradication of the charge that an expunction is.

Second Degree Felony: Punishable by a fine from $0 up to $10,000 and penitentiary time of 2 to 20 years.

Self-Defense: This is the most commonly asserted defense in criminal trials in Texas. It is a defense to a charge, usually for assault, that the Defendant used force "when and to the degree he reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect himself" against another's use or attempted use of force. Self-Defense does not apply if: 1) the Defendant is responding to words alone, 2) in response to an arrest or search by someone the Defendant knows is a police officer, even if the arrest or search is illegal, 3) where the Defendant consented to the use of force against him, for instance, in a football game or, 4) if the Defendant "provoked" the incident (in other words, goaded someone into attacking him so that he would be legally entitled to retaliate).

State Jail Felony: Punishable by a fine from $0 up to $10,000 and state jail time of 180 days up to 2 years.

Third Degree Felony: Punishable by a fine from $0 up to $10,000 and penitentiary time of 2 to 10 years.