Are you or someone you know facing harassment charges in Texas? A conviction can have long lasting consequences that you will want to avoid, including the potential of fines and jail time.
Harassment can take several different forms under Texas law. Texas Penal Code §42.07 states that an individual commits the offense of harassment when he or she acts with intent to harass, embarrass, torment, alarm, abuse or annoy someone else.
That’s a pretty broad definition. In fact, it’s possible that you may have engaged in behavior that qualifies as harassment without realizing it. With this post, we hope to explain the act of harassment a bit better so that people can understand what not do to – or why they may have been charged.
Here’s an overview of the types of acts that are punishable as harassment in Texas.
The act of initiating communication, whether electronically, in writing, or by telephone, and making a proposal, suggestion, comment, or request that is obscene.
The act of threatening, whether electronically, in writing, or by telephone, in a way that causes another person to be reasonably alarmed, that acts of bodily injury or felonies will be committed against the person, the person’s family or household, or the person’s property.
The act of knowingly conveying a false report that someone else has suffered serious bodily injury or death in a way that causes the recipient of the report to be reasonably alarmed.
Harassment by Telephone
The act of causing a telephone to ring repeatedly, making anonymous phone calls, or intentionally failing to hang up with the intent to harass, embarrass, torment, alarm, abuse, or annoy someone else under reasonable expectations. It can also involve knowingly permitting another person to use the phone under the original person’s control to commit any offense of harassment by telephone.
Electronic Harassment is the act of sending repeat electronic communications in a way that causes reasonable likelihood that another person will feel harassed, embarrassed, tormented, alarmed, abused, annoyed, or offended.
Until Texas Harassment Law recently changed, a person could be charged with criminal harassment for sending repeated text messages, emails or social media messages with the intent to annoy or alarm another person. However, recent developments in the law have limited a police officer’s use of this form of criminal harassment.
Recent Texas Appellate Court decisions have ruled that electronic communications are protected by free speech provisions under the U.S. and Texas Constitutions. Specifically, if someone emails you, texts you or sends you social media messages, you can block their phone number, email or unfriend them through social media. As such, messages being sent electronically are deemed to be protected speech unless they are being sent as a threat.
Additionally, Texas courts have questioned the subjective nature of the inquiry as to whether a text, email, or social media message is “annoying” or “alarming.” For instance, should every business that spams you with emails be charged with criminal harassment? Should text messages you receive from someone reminding you to opt-in to their program be treated as an act of criminal harassment? Currently, Texas courts have limited the application of electronic or digital harassment to specific threats.
Punishments for Harassment Charges in Texas
According to the Texas Penal Code, harassment is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in the county jail and up to a $2,000 fine. If someone has previous harassment charges, this may result in increased consequences of up to one year in the county jail and up to a $4,000 fine.
Defenses Strategies For Harassment Charges in Texas
If you or a loved one has been charged with harassment, it is critical that you find an experienced criminal lawyer that is able to prepare a proactive criminal defense strategy to protect you from the Government. A few examples of proven defense strategies to harassment charges include:
- No Intent – this defense is based upon showing that the communication between client and alleged victim was not intended to annoy or alarm. For example, an ex-husband sends repeated messages to his ex-wife for the purpose of determining when she is picking up their son from basketball practice. In this situation, when you look behind the text messages and determine the context of the communication, it is determined that it was sent not to alarm or annoy his ex-wife; but instead, it was sent to inform her to protect their son from being left alone at a sports complex.It is critical that your criminal defense attorney present communication before and after the messages used by the State of Texas to show the context of what was being said and intended in the communication.
- Not Annoying Or Alarming – was the communication being used by the prosecutor to substantiate a charge of criminal harassment actually “annoying” or “alarming?” In other words, this question is very subjective and someone may believe a comment is alarming but another reasonable person would disagree.It is important to remember that the State of Texas must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. The more doubt there is regarding the meaning of the communication, the more flexibility your attorney has to negotiate a possible dismissal of your criminal harassment case.
- The “Harassment” Was Based Upon Electronic/Digital Communication – was the communication being relied upon by the prosecutor solely based upon digital or electronic communication? If so, your criminal attorney should aggressively demand a dismissal of your harassment charges based upon the communication being protected by the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.Remember, all electronic communication is protected under free speech provisions, unless it is specifically a threat against an individual. It is critical that your attorney is aware of this change in the law and takes action to protect you from being wrongfully charged with criminal harassment.
Charges of Harassment are Serious – Seek Legal Assistance to Fight Back
A conviction for harassment in Texas will be on your criminal record for as long as you live. You may find it difficult to get a job, apply for credit, or secure housing with a conviction of harassment. A single misguided act could haunt you for decades.
Because of this, it’s important to get in touch someone who can help you. You need the knowledge and experience of a Texas harassment defense attorney who has successfully handled cases like yours.
At Fulgham Law Firm P.C., we will work hard to help you avoid jail time and steep fines. Contact us today for a free, no obligation consultation, and we’ll help you understand your charges and craft the strongest possible defense. Don’t wait to contact a knowledgeable attorney who will work to protect your rights.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.