Tag Archives: assault

Texas Assault Charges: When Does an Assault Become a Hate Crime?

People get into fights. It happens every day. Most of the time those involved walk away from it and that’s the end. Sometimes one or both parties are charged with assault (misdemeanor or felony) or aggravated assault. 

Much less often, but much more serious, an assault charge can be accompanied by a charge of committing a hate crime. How does an assault become a hate crime? And what does that mean in terms of prosecution and punishment?

Texas Assault Law

The Texas Penal Code defines the crime of assault as:

  1. Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another, including the person’s spouse,
  2. Intentionally or knowingly threatening another with imminent bodily injury, including the person’s spouse, or
  3. Intentionally or knowingly causing physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard that contact as offensive or provocative.

A charge of aggravated assault may be brought if serious injuries resulted from an assault or if a weapon was used. (Many things can be defined as a weapon.) 

Texas Hate Crime Law

The James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act defines a hate crime as any crime motivated by “prejudice, hatred or advocacy of violence.” Hate crime charges can be added to criminal charges of arson, criminal mischief, graffiti, or (more often) crimes against a person. 

Hate crime charges may be brought if the crime was committed against the victim because of their:

  • Race, color, national origin 
  • Sexual orientation 
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Gender identity 
  • Work as a judge or law enforcement officer

In high-profile cases, the FBI may investigate and federal criminal charges may be filed. 

Prosecuting a Crime as a Hate Crime

In order to be convicted of a hate crime, the prosecutor must convince a jury that the underlying crime occurred, and that it was motivated by prejudice or hate. 

“Hate speech” is not a crime, but statements of hate can be used as evidence of the motivation of the accused person. Often the prosecutor will present something the accused said to the victim. That speech was used as evidence in the 2019 case of a Dallas man who shot a transgender woman while shouting slurs at her. He was convicted of a hate crime. 

But a homophobic slur spoken before an assault on two gay men in Austin was not enough to support a hate crime charge. In that case, a plea deal resulted in misdemeanor assault charges.

What else might prosecutors use as evidence of motive for a hate crime?

  • Things the accused has written on social media, online, as graffiti, or tattoos they are wearing
  • The location of the incident (for example, a synagogue or mosque for a religiously motivated crime, or in the case of an Atlanta killer, at Asian-owned nail salons)
  • Possession of literature or membership in a group that espouses hatred toward a certain group of people 

Punishment for Hate Crimes

A conviction for a hate crime enhances the punishment applied to the original offense. It “bumps it up” one level. So, if a person was found guilty of a Class C misdemeanor, they would face punishments for a Class B misdemeanor. A Class A misdemeanor will not be sentenced as a felony but the amount of jail time could be increased to 180 days. 

The same applies to felony charges. The punishment is increased, except for a conviction of a 1st degree felony, which already has the potential for life in prison. 

If you could be facing criminal charges for a Texas hate crime, call the Fort Worth criminal defense lawyers at Lee and Wood. We have extensive experience defending people against misdemeanor and felony assault charges. Call our law office at 817-678-6771 or contact us online

Juvenile Criminal Charges Follow TikTok Challenge

Social media is no friend of teens. All across the country teenagers have been arrested and face juvenile criminal charges for participating in TikTok challenges. These young offenders got caught up in the social media rush for “clicks” and “likes” and found themselves in big trouble with their schools and the law.

Property Damage

  • A Florida teen was charged with criminal mischief and theft after participating in a TikTok challenge called devious licks (a “lick” is a successful theft). The 15-year-old stole and destroyed school property in order to film himself for the online challenge.
  • In Pennsylvania, three teens face criminal mischief charges for destroying school property.
  • In Virginia, one teen faces criminal charges and six students face school punishment for leaving school grounds to damage to public property at a nearby park.

In Texas, criminal mischief is charged for acts of vandalism and the destruction of someone else’s property. This can include graffiti, breaking the window of a car, scratching or keying a car, or breaking a door or window at a place of business or a home, for example.

A young person will be charged with criminal mischief for “pranks” in school, like plugging a school toilet or sink so it overflows, tearing soap dispensers off a wall, breaking a toilet, spray painting or writing on lockers or walls or a school bus.

The term “mischief” sounds like this isn’t a serious crime but depending on the amount of the damages and property losses, criminal mischief can be charged as a Class A, B or C misdemeanor. It could be charged as a felony if the damage to property was more than $1,500 or involved the use of a firearm or explosives.

Assault

An even more problematic TikTok challenge sweeping the nation involves “slapping a teacher.”

  • An 18-year-old Louisiana teen faces up to five years in lockup for felony battery for attacking her 64-year-old teacher. She can be charged as an adult.
  • A South Carolina teacher was hit in the back of the head by an elementary school student who was expelled, but no criminal charges were filed in that case.
  • Two 7th graders in North Carolina slapped a substitute teacher and the school district said it planned to petition the court for assault charges against the students.

These criminal shenanigans follow on the heels of last year’s TikTok “skull breaker” challenge that saw teenagers tricking their friends into falling.

  • A New Jersey student suffered a closed head injury and concussion with seizures after two 13-year-olds caused him to fall. The youngsters were arrested and charged with 3rd degree aggravated assault and 3rd degree endangering an injured victim.

Who is Responsible for TikTok Assaults? Not TikTok.

TikTok says that it doesn’t enable activities that violate the law. “We prohibit the trade, sale, promotion, and use of certain regulated goods, as well as the depiction, promotion, or facilitation of criminal activities, including human exploitation,” TikTok wrote on its website.

TikTok hasn’t been held liable for the costly and damaging effects of these teen challenges. It’s the teenagers who are being held accountable.

If you or your son or daughter is facing charges in juvenile court or adult criminal court for criminal mischief, property damage, or assault, call the criminal defense attorneys at Lee and Wood, LP: 817-678-6771 or contact us online.