Harassment Crimes Defense Attorney serving Fort Worth, Texas
Are you or someone you know facing a harassment charge in Fort Worth or a surrounding city in Tarrant County, Texas? If so, you need an experienced team of Criminal Defense Attorneys to fight on your behalf.
Being investigated and charged with the crime of harassment is a serious matter! Unbelievably, it does not take much evidence for a detective to obtain a warrant for arrest for this crime. The most common scenario is in a dating relationship where one party to the relationship breaks up with the other and becomes offended by the attempts to reconcile the relationship.
For example, we have represented many cases where the girlfriend breaks up with her boyfriend and it is messy. The boyfriend is hurt and does not understand why the relationship has ended so he sends multiple text messages, makes multiple phone calls, and sends multiple emails. The ex-girlfriend wants the communication to stop so she calls the police department and claims “harassment” has occurred. Is it really that simple? Not necessarily! Let us see what Texas criminal law says must be proven by the State of Texas in order to sustain a conviction from the crime of harassment.
What Is Criminal Harassment?
Texas Penal Code §42.07 states that a person commits the offense of Harassment if with intent to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass another, he:
- initiates communication by telephone, in writing, or by electronic communication and in the course of the communication makes a comment, request, suggestion, or proposal that is obscene;
- threatens, by telephone, in writing, or by electronic communication, in a manner reasonably likely to alarm the person receiving the threat, to inflict bodily injury on the person or to commit a felony against the person, a member of his family or household, or his property;
- conveys, in a manner reasonably likely to alarm the person receiving the report, a false report, which is known by the conveyor to be false, that another person has suffered death or serious bodily injury;
- causes the telephone of another to ring repeatedly or makes repeated telephone communications anonymously or in a manner reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend another;
- makes a telephone call and intentionally fails to hang up or disengage the connection;
- knowingly permits a telephone under the person’s control to be used by another to commit an offense under this section; or
- sends repeated electronic communications in a manner reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend another.
As you can see, most harassment charges arise from the accused contacting the alleged victim by text, email, phone call or in-person in a manner that annoys or alarms. The problem with this crime is that what annoys or alarms someone can be subjective. Even though Texas criminal law uses the reasonable person standard when it comes to establishing this fact, police detectives will routinely arrest people based upon the subjective opinion of an alleged victim that claims they were annoyed or alarmed. This can result in many innocent people being arrested for a crime they did not commit.
What Are The Legal Consequences For The Crime Of Harassment?
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 the accused has a previous harassment conviction, the punishment range is increased to a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in the county jail and up to a $4,000 fine.
What If The Supposed Annoying Or Alarming Communication Was Electronic Only?
One of the most common scenarios where an alleged victim will claim they were harassed is when they receive text messages, emails, or social media messages from someone. Currently, the law is divided in Texas regarding whether electronic communication, solely, can be the basis of a valid harassment charge.
On one occasion, the Texas Appellate Courts have held that electronic communications are protected free speech under the U.S. and Texas Constitution. In other words, the 1st Amendment under the U.S. Constitution provides that certain speech is protected and cannot be limited. In one instance, the Court was focused on the fact that the receiver of the messages can block the reception of messages received by text and email. With social media, the receiver of the messages can also unfriend or block messages as well. The court focused on the fact that unless the messages were threatening, they should be protected by the 1st Amendment.
However, other Texas Appellate Court decisions have sided with the application of electronic communications being harassment. In 2022, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held by 5-4 decision that it can be a crime to send emails, texts, and other electronic messages with the intent to annoy, alarm or offend. Here, the narrow majority found that the messages did not violate the First Amendment’s free-speech protections. In a different interpretation, the court found that sending an electronic message is not “speech,” as contemplated by the First Amendment. In other words, Judge Walker believed that the messages were not sent to convey speech. Instead, they were only sent to annoy or alarm the recipient.
This current state of affairs with the law of criminal harassment is important for your criminal attorney to be aware of and use to your advantage when negotiating. The prosecutor on the case may not be up to date on the status of the law and if the bulk of the communication between the parties that was allegedly performed with the intent to annoy or alarm was electronic, your aggressive and experienced criminal attorney may be able to negotiate a dismissal of the charges.
What Is “Threatening” Communication Under Texas Harassment Law?
Determining what communications are threatening under harassment law is a fact issue and can be subject to interpretation. This is important to realize because the accused to a crime NEVER has the burden to prove anything! Alternatively, the State of Texas through the District Attorney’s Office ALWAYS has the burden of proof to prove each and every element of the crime of harassment beyond a reasonable doubt.
The more doubt your criminal defense lawyer can establish with your case, the more leverage you have to negotiate a favorable result. In order to prove communication was “threatening,” the prosecutor will be forced to look at the context of the messages and when and how the messages were sent.
For example: what if a text message was sent with a vague or ambiguous message as to a threat? How many times have we all received a text message or email and misinterpreted what it meant? In order for a prosecutor to prove a harassment case based upon “threatening” communication, they will need messages that were specific in their language regarding the threat. Relying upon vague or ambiguous messages or comments will likely create reasonable doubt at a jury trial. This issue must be thoroughly exploited by your criminal defense attorney in trial.
Criminal Defenses To Harassment Charges
We have already identified the fact that certain electronic communications may be deemed protected free speech under the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. The best criminal attorneys will look to this issue first when defending citizens charged with harassment in Texas.
Criminal Intent Can Not Be Proven
We have seen many instances when electronic or in-person communication took place that annoyed or alarmed the recipient but was not sent with the INTENT to annoy or alarm. In other words, what if the messages or communication was sent for a different reason?
We have represented clients that were arrested for harassment because of communication between them and their ex-spouse. This happens frequently when a client has a troubled relationship with an ex-wife or ex-husband and the client repeatedly sends text messages or voice mails regarding issues involving children for which they have joint custody. In fact, there have been situations where an ex-husband or ex-wife has used this crime as a tool to attempt to limit custody or visitation rights. If the messages sent were annoying to the recipient but they were sent to check on the health, safety or welfare of the child, the prosecutor will have a difficult time proving the element of criminal intent.
Failure To Prove “Annoying Or Alarming”
Was the communication from the client to the alleged victim objectively and reasonably annoying? As we mentioned earlier, this can be an opinionated conclusion that is not always based upon reason. Is a single message sent to someone that is not threatening “annoying or alarming?” To someone who is already mad at the accused, it is highly likely that it would be. But what about an objective analysis of the message? If the communication between the parties is not threatening, a seasoned criminal attorney may be able to create sufficient reasonable doubt to resolve your case in a manner that results in a dismissal.
What Is The Goal?
The goal of the best criminal lawyers with any criminal case is to resolve their client’s case with three primary objectives in mind:
- Avoid Jail Time – avoiding jail time is the top priority on any criminal case. If your criminal attorney is not willing to fight to help you avoid jail, you have the wrong lawyer. Avoiding jail allows you to keep your job, support your family and maintain your freedom.
- Avoid Criminal Conviction – being convicted of a crime, even a misdemeanor crime, can result in the loss of employment, difficulty obtaining meaningful and long-lasting employment and a stigma associated with your name labeling you a criminal under public records.
- Destroy The Criminal Record – finally, by avoiding jail and conviction, your criminal defense attorney may be able to ensure that your criminal arrest and file is expunged or sealed from your criminal record. The ultimate goal is to ensure that you can deny this incident ever occurred in the future.
Fort Worth Harassment Charges Lawyer
A harassment conviction in Fort Worth or surrounding city will be on your record for the rest of your life. An employer may be alarmed when a potential employee has been convicted of harassment. If you have been arrested and charged with harassment in Fort Worth, Arlington, or surrounding cities, you need an aggressive and knowledgeable harassment lawyer on your side. A harassment conviction in Fort Worth could carry with it the possibility of jail time. At Fulgham Law Firm P.C. our goal is to prevent jail time and to help you clear your record.
At Fulgham Law Firm P.C., you will find a criminal law practice focused on passionately defending the accused. Contact our Fort Worth office now at 817-886-3078 for a free and confidential consultation with an attorney skilled in handling harassment charges.
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Our Team of Former Prosecutors with over 80 years of experience and over five hundred jury trials have helped thousands of people in Fort Worth, Texas and we can help you too.