Son assaulted a public servant can you help?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I have an 18 year old son. He’s been difficult since he was a child and has been in and out of different schools. Recently he assaulted a teacher. We just found out he’s going to be charged with a felony assault charge under  Texas Penal Code § 22.01. Assault. I am shocked and scared. I don’t want one mistake to ruin the rest of his life. Can you tell me more about this law and why it would be a felony charge instead of a regular Class A assault charge?”

Overview of Assault of a public servant in Texas

Given the duty, risk and sacrifice that public servants make to society, the Texas legislature has decided that assaulting a public servant is a very serious crime. In fact, if your son is convicted of assaulting a public servant he can be charged with a third degree felony.

To convict him of this crime, however, the state will have to prove that he “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another person” and that he knew that the victim was a public servant who was lawfully discharging his official duty. Additionally, your son can also be charged under this statute if his actions were “in retaliation or on account of an exercise of official power or performance of an official duty as a public servant.”

Who is considered a public servant?

While it might be obvious who public servants might be (i.e. policemen, legislatures, firefighters, judges, senators, the president) other public servants may not be as obvious (i.e. teachers, volunteer fire fighters, public health officials, city clerks, code enforcers and tax collectors).

If there’s any question about who might be a public servant it’s important to reference the Texas Penal Code (Section 1.07 Definitions). Under this section, a public servant is defined as:

 “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: an officer, employee, or agent of government; a juror or grand juror; or an arbitrator, referee, or other person who is authorized by law or private written agreement to hear or determine a cause or controversy; or, an attorney at law or notary public when participating in the performance of a governmental function; or a candidate for nomination or election to public office; or a person who is performing a governmental function under a claim of right although he is not legally qualified to do so.”

Did your son know the teacher was a public servant?

As mentioned above, it’s important that the defendant understand they are assaulting public servant to be charged under this statute. Although you mentioned your son’s assault occurred in the classroom, some defendants may be able to defend against a felony charge if they did not know the victim was a public servant.

For example, while a police officer dressed in uniform may clearly be a public servant, if an officer is undercover there could be some question if the defendant knew they were injuring a public servant. In your son's case the charges might have been different if your son assaulted someone and did not know they were a teacher and the assault happened when the teacher was off duty. For example, if your son had been at a bar and assaulted another patron (who just happened to be a teacher) because they were a Chief’s fan and your son was a Cowboy’s fan.

What kind of penalties can your son face?

Now, you mentioned you were concerned about the penalties and fines your son might face, and with good reason. A simple assault charge is a Class A misdemeanor. If your son had been charged with simple assault and convicted, he could have spent one year in jail and been forced to pay a $4,000 fine. Unfortunately, that’s nothing like being charged with a felony and facing 2 to 10 years in prison and having to pay up to $10,000.

Should you be worried about the charges against your son?

A felony charge is a very serious charge. You did not mention what happened exactly, but even a reckless action that caused injury can be considered assault. The law does not require that your son meant to injure a public service. It’s also important to note that if the assault happened in the classroom this could mean the other two elements of the crime exist: your son knew (or should have known) that his teacher was a public servant and at the time of the assault they were performing their job duty.

What should you do now? You need to contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately. Your attorney can discuss with you the evidence for this case and what steps you need to take to help your son defend against these charges.

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