Breaking Down Assault Crimes: From Investigation to Timeline

Houston, TX Attorney Greg Tsioros contacted me a few weeks ago. When I read his breakdown of assault crimes, I couldn’t wait to share it with you. If you’re writing about cops, criminals, or lawyers, this post offers fantastic information. For non-writers, I think you’ll also find it fascinating. Enjoy!

The California Department of Safety reported that the number of aggravated assaults in 2012 was high compared to other crimes. According to the statistics, the number of aggravated assaults was 94,432 compared to 7,828 forcible rapes, and 1,878 homicides. Aggravated assaults are divided into misdemeanors or simple assaults, and felonies or serious assaults.

What is Aggravated Assault?

The definition of aggravated assault varies depending on the state you reside in. Typically, aggravated assault is determined through assessing the intention of the accused, whether a weapon was used, and the condition of the victim. In most cases, aggravated assault is considered if an attack is against a law enforcement officer or a public official. Aggravated assault is also considered when a person uses a knife, blunt object (hammer, rock, brick, etc.), gun, or any lethal weapon that is likely to cause serious injuries or even disfigure or kill the victim.

Some common examples of aggravated assault are:

  • Assaulting a person and causing them serious injuries
  • Assaulting a person while concealing one’s identity
  • Assaulting a senior person or a disabled adult
  • Assaulting a respected public official such as a police man, social worker, or healthcare provider
  • Threatening to harm or kill a person while pointing a lethal weapon at them

Investigating Aggravated Assault

The duty of a criminal investigator includes liaising with the district attorney or prosecutor to provide evidence, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the nature and elements of the crime qualifies as an aggravated assault. Officers investigating aggravated assaults normally follow a specific protocol when investigating the crime.

The kind of action taken by investigators and the material attained depends on whether a reactive or proactive method is used for investigations. Both methods follow similar stages but the due to the varying nature of investigations, each case may use a different route. For example, in some cases the offender’s identity is clear and the investigation jumps the initial stages and begins at the suspect management phase. In other cases, the offender’s identity is not known and is only discovered after a detailed investigation.

Reactive vs Proactive Investigations

Reactive investigations start with:

  • General public reports
  • Referrals by other agencies
  • Re-investigation after the development of new information
  • Intelligence links to similar crimes

Proactive investigations begin with intelligence identifying individuals or groups assessed as participating in criminal actions. Intelligence is generated from a tasking and coordination process and set aside for detailed investigation. Intelligence packages include:

  • An analysis of criminal patterns
  • Problem profiles
  • Subject analysis
  • Tactical profiles and assessment

Initial InvestigationBreaking down assault: from investigation to timeline

Many crimes reported to law enforcement officers are not serious incidents and the officer who attends to the complaint may be the investigator until the conclusion of the case. When a crime is allocated to an investigating officer, they normally gather information from the person who received the initial report. Officers deployed to deal with an incident are faced with numerous demands including reassuring witnesses and victims, providing first aid, and asking for medical assistance, and dealing with the violent situation.

Collecting Evidence

The police will take samples from the crime scene. The victim or witness may be asked to assist by giving elimination fingerprints. If the victim has injuries, the police will take photos of the injuries or have a doctor examine the injuries. The doctor will record the injuries to serve as evidence against the person responsible for the crime.

Statements to the Police

A statement refers to a written or recorded account about what happened. Before a victim, makes a statement, the investigating officer will ask them a few questions to determine what happened. The information gathered in a statement includes the description of the suspect and any witnesses and all the details involving the crime. The police may either ask the victim to appear at the police station to issue a statement or may record a statement from the victim’s home. If the police think the victim is intimidated or vulnerable, they may ask them to make a video statement instead of a written statement. Video recording is mainly used for underage victims. When providing information, victims of aggravated assault are advised to have a criminal lawyer present to ensure they do not make any contradictory statements.

When an initial investigation leads to the identification of the suspect and there is enough information to warrant an interview of the suspect, the investigation moves to the suspect management stage.

Suspect Management

When a person is a suspect of a crime of aggravated assault, there must be reasonable grounds based on known information or facts which show that the accused person most likely committed the crime. The identification of the suspect provides a chance for the investigating officer to apply different investigative strategies that focus on the suspect.

If the identity of the suspect is in dispute, the police will use an identity procedure to find the right person. In such cases, the victim or witness will be required to pick the person who they think committed the aggravated assault. To carry out the procedure for identification, the police can employ different methods including requiring the witness to identify the suspect from a line up, from a photo album of common criminals or through Video Identification Parade Electronic Recording (VIPER). The VIPER technique involves the use of a DVD disc with possible suspects that victims or witnesses are given to view either from the police station or from any other location.

Case Management

After the suspect is charged, there are several issues that must be managed before the case moves to court. The prosecution or district attorney’s office and police are responsible for prosecuting the case after the suspect is charged.

When the prosecution gets a case file from the law enforcement agencies including witness statements and any other evidence, they may ask the police to conduct further investigations in case the intelligence gathered is not sufficient to take any action. A decision to prosecute is based on two factors:

  • Evidential test- is the evidence acquired enough to hope for a conviction?
  • Public interest test- is a prosecution in the best interest of the public?

Assault Crimes: Investigation to TimelineIf a prosecutor decides that the evidence is enough to prosecute and that it is in the best interest of the public, they will initiate a prosecution. The prosecutor will decide the offences that the defendant will be prosecuted for and prepare the necessary papers. The victim or witness will be issued a formally written notification of the decision to prosecute. The prosecution will decide whether to prosecute a case in court or whether to take alternative measures.

Some of the diversionary options or alternatives to court prosecutions include an informed warning, caution, or a diversionary youth conference. The informed warning is a formal reprimand issued by the police and which is recorded on the accused’s criminal record for one year. Caution is a form of reprimand issued by the police. It remains in the accused’s criminal record for 30 months in a case involving a juvenile and five years in a case involving an adult. A diversionary youth conference is used for offenders who are below 18 years.

If the prosecution decides to prosecute, the case may begin with a charge sheet or summons. If it is through a charge sheet, the police will charge the suspect and arrest them. The prosecution will review the charges before a court appearance to ensure there is sufficient evidence for prosecution. The accused will either be:

  • Held in custody throughout the night and taken to court, where the court will consider the question of bail
  • Released on bail to attend a court hearing on a specific date within 28 days from the day of the initial charge

The prosecution after consulting with the plaintiff’s lawyer, may ask the court not to grant the accused bail if they think there is a risk of the person running away, committing additional offences, interfering with witnesses, and becoming a threat to the public.

If the accused gets bail, the prosecutor will determine the bail conditions that will help prevent certain risks that the person poses. Some of the bail conditions that may be imposed include:

  • Requiring the defendant to be at a certain address during certain times. This is also known as a curfew
  • Restricting the defendant from visiting certain places or seeing certain people
  • Electronic tagging

Conclusion

Investigation into an aggravated assault is a complicated procedure. Investigations are initiated once a crime has been reported. The police gather information by examining the crime scene, taking objects at the crime scene and interviewing the victim or any witness(s). If the suspect is known to the victim, the police may summon them for questioning. The police will then forward their gathered information to the prosecution.

The prosecution will review the information and may require the police to provide additional information for them to make a decision of whether to prosecute or not. When the prosecutor decides to pursue the case the accused may be held in custody until the date of the hearing of the case, usually 28 days after the accused is charged with aggravated assault, or released on bail until the date of the court hearing.

About the Author

Houston defense lawyer Greg Tsioros provides legal advice and aggressive representation for clients charged with misdemeanors and felonies at both the state and federal level. Mr. Tsioros handles criminal defense cases of any stature – from orders of non-disclosure and expunctions to more serious DWI and drug charges. With years of experience as a state prosecutor and as an accomplished Houston criminal defense attorney, Greg Tsioros is prepared to defend clients from virtually any criminal accusation. No matter how complicated the circumstances may be, Mr. Tsioros will work tirelessly to ensure that citizen rights are protected and never taken for granted. Read more about The Law Office of Greg Tsioros at www.txcrimdefense.com.

About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is a multi-published author in numerous anthologies, and her forensics articles have appeared in InSinC Quarterly. In addition to her popular crime resource blog, Sue’s a radio show host—check out "Partners In Crime" in the menu bar—the communications manager for the Serial Killer Project and Forensic Science and founder of #ACrimeChat on Twitter.

23 Comments

  1. Many people are unaware of the real world process behind assault charges. This guide definitely clears up a lot of common misconceptions in criminal law. Thanks for sharing!

  2. The posts you share are always interesting and informative, Sue. There is so much information here. My mind was spinning as I read through it!

  3. This is an excellent recap about the elements in aggravated assault investigations and prosecutions. Thanks, Sue & Greg.

    I see a few references to varying legal applications depending on jurisdiction. That’s true but not something that should greatly concern a crime fiction writer. My experience is the assault laws and application of evidence are very similar – even between countries.

    What’s important for crime writers to know about evidence – and that’s right from a simple misdemeanor right up to a serious felony – is that there’re a few tests to muster. One, the information being presented as evidence is reliable in that it’s factual, accurate and true. Second, the information or evidence must be relevant in that it can be legally supportive of proving the offense occurred and was committed by the accused.

    Relevancy is often what gets tricky in court and why evidence gets tossed out, especially on technicalities. If a defense lawyer can break a chain of relevancy – the evidence is probably gone.

    Corroboration is majorly important in proving that evidence is both reliable and relevant – that’s where the point of fact being offered, whether a physical exhibit or a verbal testimony, is backed-up or corroborated by some other credible and relevant point. It might sound confusing but it’s a basis of all criminal prosecutions regardless of jurisdiction.

    Something else to keep in mind for crime writers is that witnesses (including victims) can be notoriously unreliable and have convenient lapses of recall when they hit the stand. Many jurisdictions have a legal mechanism to depose a criminal witness statement. This means the statement is recorded under oath and can be turned against a hostile witness at trial or can be entered as evidence if they disappear or refuse to testify.

    Sorry if this sounds like a legal treatise – just trying to help other crime writers prepare their cases carefully 🙂

  4. Sadly, too many people get away with assault and battery. Had a coworker who was stabbed seven times by her husband in the chest. She was bleeding profusely when the police got there. They didn’t even call the EMTs, her sister had to drive her to the hospital. Her husband was gone before the police arrived, and they said, without witnesses they couldn’t press charges. After hearing her story, one of the cops even told her, “If you’d just had sex with the man, none of this would have happened.” Unreal. That’s Florida for ya! She’s permanently scarred, and her breasts are grossly disfigured, even after “reconstructive” surgery.

  5. Ah, the simplicity of the law (he said with tongue planted in cheek)! Very informative post. I’d like to add one of my pet peeves to the mix: What are your feelings about “hate crimes?” I, for one, despise the concept. In my humble opinion, it continues to separate the races in its own insidious way. If a black man kills a white man (or vice versa), it’s considered a hate crime. But if someone kills another, it’s simply murder. To me, that is ludicrous! Murder is murder. So the brilliant minds who developed the concept of hate crimes decided that, if one kills another of a different race, it’s a higher crime than to kill a person of your own race. Again, murder is murder, and dead is dead. My view might not be popular, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Comments, anyone? –Michael
    E. Michael Helms recently posted…Hearts to God, Hands to work – the Shakers by Eleanor KuhnsMy Profile

    • I so agree with you. As long as we keep drawing lines, and trying to differentiate, there will be lines.

    • Totally agree with you, Michael. Whenever I hear a prosecutor trying to turn a murder into a hate crime, they are the ones who sound racist. There are a few exceptions, like when someone blows up a place of worship. Then, by all means, use the hate crime penalty. Please. Or the KKK, groups that by their very nature seethe hatred.

  6. Interesting stuff, for sure. What happens if a crow steals the knife from the crime scene?

  7. This is really useful information! Thanks very much, both. It’s true, of course, that details of aggravated assault and its investigation might vary from state to state in the US. Still, the basics aren’t dramatically different, from my (admittedly unsophisticated) understanding. I think authors who are considering including this sort of topic in a novel can perhaps start with these basics, and then check into their particular state’s interpretations of the terms and policies?

  8. Great write up! It is important to note that the laws vary from state-to-state. What’s defined as “aggravated assault” in one state may be called something else in another. Or the term might be used, but the elements might differ.

    Even so, it’s an excellent guide to police procedure. Thanks for posting this! 🙂

    • You’re exactly right, Debbi. Thanks for adding that important detail. Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend!

      • It’s the lawyer in me. I can’t help myself.

        Have a great weekend, too. Thanks! 🙂
        Debbi recently posted…Why I Write About a Lawyer Sleuth – Debbi MackMy Profile

        • Do you practice criminal law? If so, what state? Have you worked homicide cases? Hmm…would you be interested in guest posting on the timeline of homicide cases for a future post?

          • I handled a few minor criminal cases when I had an office many years ago, but am no longer practicing law.

            I’d be happy to do a guest post on the various myths about lawyers or the need to check the details of one’s state. Sometimes the law is hard to write about, because details can vary so much. Depending on the subject, customs and practices can even change from county to county!

            I won’t even get into the subject of federalism and what laws come with state vs. federal jurisdiction. Not to mention that some federal laws are implemented differently state-to-state. Like Medicaid and some of the environmental laws. The latter is of interest to me, because I was an attorney at EPA for a while.

            I could ramble on, but I’ll spare you! 🙂

            Let me know if you have an interest in a lawyer-writer guest post from someone who didn’t handle a murder case, but is full of opinions about how badly TV and movies can get it wrong. Or maybe a Top 10 list of my favorite legal movies, TV shows, or novels. Something like that! 🙂
            Debbi recently posted…Why I Write About a Lawyer Sleuth – Debbi MackMy Profile

            • I’m a huge advocate for lessening the CSI Effect, so a post about where TV and movies get it wrong sounds perfect. No rush. I need to write a few posts in between. Few details to keep in mind: please include at least one outbound link (other than to your blog or SM; I’ll link those in the bio), send book covers, profile pic, and keep post around 1K words-ish (don’t worry if you go over or under. I’m not picky). Then email it to me. You should have my address in the post notification. Last but not least, thank you!!!!

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