Texas Harassment Laws: Criminal charges and Penalties in Texas
Harassment is a misdemeanor offense in which one person is accused of purposely annoying another person, usually by phone or e-mail. If the case involves threats of violence, the charge can become stalking, a felony.
To charge you with harassment or stalking, the police have to show that you were the person making the calls or sending the messages, and establish that you acted with criminal intent. The most common forms of evidence they use are phone records, copies of voice mail messages, e-mails and Internet addresses.
Occasionally, these incidents can escalate into violence, so prosecutors tend to take them very seriously, treating a harassment or stalking charge as a warning sign, especially in domestic violence cases or cases in which a stranger repeatedly expresses unwanted romantic interest in another person.
What is Harassment Under Texas Law?
The Texas Penal Code says you have committed harassment if you call, write or e-mail someone with the intention of scaring, embarrassing, annoying, or tormenting them. Specifically, if you solicit or describe sex acts, threaten to harm the person or the person’s family, falsely report the death or serious injury of a third party, let the phone ring over and over, or send repeated e-mails, you can be charged.
Harassment is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by not more than 180 days in a county jail and/or a fine of not more than $2,000. But, if you have been convicted of harassment before, it becomes a Class A misdemeanor, which could mean up to a year in county jail and/or fines up to $4,000.
As with most misdemeanors, it is likely that you could receive probation if convicted.
Charged with stalking in Texas?
In some cases, you can be charged with the more serious offense of stalking. That is defined as any repeated conduct that gives another person, or member of the person’s family, the reasonable fear that you might kill or seriously injure them, or even damage their property.
While the statute includes physically following someone as a form of stalking, it does not require that the offense be committed in person.
For example, repeatedly calling a former boss to tell him you’re going to hurt him could be considered stalking under Texas criminal law. Or, posting threatening notes on a Internet message board to a woman who turned you down for a date could also be considered what is commonly known as cyberstalking.
On the first offense, stalking is a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000. With a previous conviction, it is a second-degree felony, bumping the possible penalty up to 2 to 20 years in a state prison.
Get a Criminal Case Evaluation from our Attorneys on Texas Harassment/Stalking Laws
Of course, we can help you fight Texas criminal charges of harassment or stalking. Often, these cases rely on records showing only that calls or e-mails came from an account in your name. We can argue that you did not initiate the communications, or that there was nothing in the content of the communications to show criminal intent.
There are many possible defenses, but don’t delay in finding legal help, or your best defense options may disappear. Contact us today.