Aggravated Assault vs. Deadly Conduct

Some might assume that aggravated assault and deadly conduct are basically the same type of crimes. However, deadly conduct and aggravated assault are actually two distinct criminal charges in Texas, each with its own legal definitions, elements, and penalties.

Under Texas law, the critical difference between aggravated assault and deadly conduct lies in the intent and the nature of the conduct. Aggravated assault involves causing serious bodily injury with intent or knowledge and often includes the use of a deadly weapon. Deadly conduct, on the other hand, is more about reckless or dangerous behavior that poses a risk of harm to others, and intent to cause harm is not necessarily required.

What is aggravated assault?

When a person commits an assault with certain specific factors or elements that make the offense more severe, it is considered aggravated assault. Under Texas law, a person commits aggravated assault if they intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly caused serious bodily injury, and the assault involved a deadly weapon.

Most aggravated assaults are charged as second-degree felonies punishable by two to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. However, if a person uses a deadly weapon to commit aggravated assault against a romantic partner, family member, or someone who lives with them, it could be considered a first-degree felony with a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Here are some circumstances when an assault could be elevated to aggravated assault in Texas:

  • It involved a deadly weapon: If someone uses or exhibits a deadly weapon while committing an assault, the charge could be aggravated assault. A deadly weapon can be any object or instrument designed to cause serious bodily injury or death, such as a firearm, knife, or even a motor vehicle if it is used in a manner that could cause serious harm.
  • It caused serious bodily injury: If the victim of an assault suffers serious bodily injury as a result of the attack, the charge may be elevated to aggravated assault. Serious bodily injury is defined as an injury that poses a substantial risk of death or causes protracted disfigurement, loss, or impairment of bodily function.
  • The victim was a public servant or a witness: If the assault is committed against a public servant, such as a police officer, firefighter, or emergency medical personnel, or against a witness (or potential witness) in a criminal case, the offense can be charged as aggravated assault.
  • The offender has a prior assault conviction. If a party has a previous assault conviction related to family violence and is alleged to have committed another family violence offense, that act could be charged as aggravated assault.
  • The incident happened in a protected location: If an assault occurs in a protected location—a school, place of worship, or correctional facility—it could be considered aggravated assault.
  • Sexual assault was involved: In cases involving sexual assault, the offense can be charged as aggravated assault due to the serious and traumatic nature of the crime.

What is deadly conduct?

Deadly conduct is a criminal charge involving reckless or dangerous behavior that puts another person in immediate danger of serious bodily injury or death. Unlike aggravated assault, deadly conduct does not necessarily require the intent to harm someone. Recklessness or the conscious disregard of the risk is sufficient for a deadly conduct charge in Texas.

Here are some situations in which a person could be charged with deadly conduct in Texas:

  • Firearm discharge: Discharging a firearm in a reckless or dangerous manner, such as shooting a gun into the air in a populated area, discharging a firearm in the direction of one or more individuals (even if no one is injured), or firing a weapon toward a structure, e.g. a building, home, or car, without considering whether it is occupied.
  • Reckless driving: Engaging in reckless driving behaviors that create a substantial risk of serious injury or death to others. This may include actions like street racing, driving at high speeds in a reckless manner, or intentionally causing a collision.
  • Brandishing a weapon: Pointing a firearm or other deadly weapon at another person in a threatening or reckless manner, even if the weapon is not discharged. For example, displaying a firearm during an argument without justification could result in a deadly conduct charge.
  • Throwing objects: Throwing or launching objects (other than firearms) at others in a reckless manner that could cause serious bodily injury or death.
  • Use of explosives: Reckless use or possession of explosive devices, fireworks, or incendiary devices that could harm people or property.
  • Making terrorist threats: Threatening to commit violence against a person or place that causes others to fear for their safety or life.

Deadly conduct is typically charged as a Class A misdemeanor in Texas, with a maximum fine of $4,000 and up to one year in jail. However, if certain aggravating factors are present—the discharge of a firearm toward individuals, habitations, or vehicles—the offense can be charged as a third-degree felony, which carries fines of up to $10,000 and up to 20 years in prison.

If you or someone you know is facing aggravated assault or deadly conduct charges in Texas, it’s critical to consult with a criminal defense attorney from Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm, who will examine the situation and build a strong defense. Call us in Killeen or Copperas Cove today, or fill out our contact form to find out how we can help you. Also serving Belton, Harker Heights, and Waco, as well as Williamson, Bell, Coryell, and McLennan Counties.