The legal system is always working to be more efficient, especially in Texas. The goal of the judicial system is to provide true justice for crime victims as quickly as possible. This is difficult enough on its own, without anyone getting in the way.
Sometimes, people do attempt to interrupt the smooth function of the legal system. That’s why the charges of retaliation and obstruction exist.
Texas takes its legal system seriously and penalizes people who interrupt legal proceedings accordingly.
Similarities Between Obstruction and Retaliation
Before we come to understand the differences between these crimes, let’s first understand what is the same about them. Texas defines both retaliation and obstruction using three qualifiers. A person commits one of these crimes if they:
- Intentionally or knowingly harm or threaten to harm someone unlawfully;
- That harm is intended to prevent an action or retaliate after an action;
- The action is the reporting of a crime, the work of a public servant, or the testimony of a potential witness.
Essentially, the charges of retaliation and obstructions are intended to penalize anyone who interrupts the work of the legal system or other public servants. However, there’s more to these charges than that.
Defining Obstruction in Texas
Obstruction is specifically the act of preventing or delaying someone else’s actions as either a public servant, a witness, an informant, or the reporter of a crime. How the person obstructs the actions can be widely variable, but it must involve either harm or threats of harm to the actor. The harm does not need to be physical, but it must be unlawful.
This means that the harm done or threatened can include property damage, financial damage, unlawful firing, or slander. Any of these, if intended to prevent a public servant from doing their job or a witness from offering their testimony, is enough to justify a charge of obstruction.
Common Reasons for Committing an Act of Obstruction
There are many reasons why people commit obstruction. Some people commit obstruction on their own behalf after committing a crime. For example, threatening a murder witness to prevent them from giving their testimony at trial is obstruction.
Others commit obstruction for their friends or family. Threatening a public servant to keep them from investigating your child is still obstruction. So is harassing someone who witnessed your spouse commits a hit and run.
As long as the intention of the harm is to prevent the function of the legal system, then it is likely to be obstruction.
How Texas Defines Retaliation
Where obstruction occurs before a public servant or witness does something, retaliation occurs afterward. Retaliation is the act of harming someone or threatening to harm them for having given testimony, reported a crime, or acting as a public servant.
While threatening someone if they do something is considered an act of obstruction, threatening them because they’ve done something is considered retaliation.
Examples of Criminal Retaliation
Again, the harm done or threatened doesn’t need to be bodily harm. In fact, many cases of retaliation are purely non-physical.
Firing someone for reporting embezzlement or tax fraud is retaliation. So is the act of slashing someone’s tires for acting as a witness at a trial. Even egging someone’s house for working as a police officer can be considered retaliation.
The Latest Criminal Iteration: “Doxxing”
Retaliation and obstruction don’t need to be committed personally, either. Recently, Texas law has been amended to include “doxxing,” or publicly posting the victim’s home address or phone number, under the retaliation and obstruction. If this private information is posted to harm the victim for being a public servant, the act is illegal.
Penalties for Retaliation and Obstruction
Because these crimes can seriously affect the course of a trial or a criminal investigation, they carry strict penalties. At a minimum, retaliation and obstruction are considered felonies of the third degree in Texas.
A third-degree felony conviction can be penalized with two to ten years in prison and a fine that may be as high as $10,000. This charge can be considered aggravated under certain circumstances, in which case may be charged as a felony of the second degree.
- Threatening or harming a juror;
- Causing bodily harm to either a public servant or any member of their family or household.
In these cases, the potential prison sentence doubles, to up to 20 years in prison. The fine remains. For both third and second degree felonies, a conviction also results in lifelong status as a felon.
Witnesses, public servants, jurors, and people who report crimes are all critical to the justice system. The charges of retaliation and obstruction are intended to protect these people. However, the charges can also lead to decades in prison for a momentary lapse in judgment. If you or a loved one has been accused of obstruction or retaliation, reach out to an experienced attorney today.
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. He has been recognized for his work by Expertise (Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Forth Worth and Best DUI Lawyers in Fort Worth, both 2020), The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.