Have you been charged with harassment in Texas?
These days, communication can easily go awry. A few heated exchanges might even lead to a charge of harassment. If you’re wondering what this charge is all about, keep reading.
Our Waco, TX criminal defense lawyers will explain.
What Behaviors Are Considered Harassment in Texas?
Texas Penal Code § 42.07 defines harassment. According to the Texas Penal Code, a person commits harassment in Texas if, with intent to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass another, they:
- Initiate communication and make an obscene comment or request;
- Threaten to inflict bodily injury or commit a felony on a person, a member of the person’s family or household, or the person’s property;
- Intentionally alarm someone by falsely telling them that another person has suffered death or serious bodily injury;
- Anonymously call someone repeatedly or in a manner reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend them;
- Call someone and intentionally fail to hang up or disengage the connection;
- Send repeated electronic communications in a manner reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend another; or
- Knowingly allow someone to use a phone to commit one of the above offenses.
According to these penal code provisions, there are many different methods of harassing someone. You can commit harassment in person or by phone call, text, email, or online communication.
Factors in determining whether behavior qualifies as harassment include:
- The victim’s perception of the harassment,
- The perpetrator’s intent with the action, and
- Whether a reasonable person would perceive the action as harassment.
Both the victim’s perception and the alleged harasser’s intent are important points. For instance, if the harasser jokingly yells, “I want to strangle you,” this might not seem like harassment. However, if the victim does not realize that the threat was a joke, and if the people standing nearby thought the alleged harasser was serious, this could qualify as harassment.
What Penalties Apply to a Harassment Conviction?
Harassment (Texas Penal Code 42.07) is a Class B misdemeanor, which carries the following penalties:
- Up to 180 days in jail,
- Up to a $2,000 fine,
- A prohibition from having a License to Carry a weapon for five years, and
The harassment offense may be increased to a Class A misdemeanor if:
- The person had a previous harassment conviction;
- The person harassed a minor, using an electronic device, with the intent that the child commit suicide or commit serious bodily injury; or
- The person harassed a minor, using an electronic device, when the person had previously violated a restraining order or injunction for cyberbullying.
In Texas, a Class A misdemeanor conviction carries heightened penalties:
- Up to a year in jail and
- Up to a $4,000 fine.
A conviction for harassment goes on your permanent criminal record. Having a criminal record could impact your ability to find housing or employment. Therefore, it is important to hire a skilled criminal defense attorney who will work to get your harassment charge reduced or dismissed.
What Factors Elevate Harassment Charges?
Some factors may elevate a harassment charge to a more serious charge. For instance:
- Frequently calling someone and threatening to harm them might elevate to stalking;
- Texting a minor with an obscene proposal might elevate to solicitation of a minor;
- Physically intimidating someone and threatening harm could lead to charges of bullying; and
- Threatening harm to someone in a text message could lead to charges of cyberbullying.
Harassment, bullying, and stalking are crimes that can overlap. Subtle distinctions regarding the pattern and setting of the behavior influence the charge.
Harassment elevates to stalking if a person knowingly and repeatedly commits a harassing behavior or an action that threatens:
- Bodily injury or death for the other person or that person’s family or partner; or
- Destruction of the other person’s property.
Even if the perpetrator does not threaten to harm a person or property, the behavior could still be stalking if it causes:
- A person, or that person’s family or partner, to fear bodily injury, death, or property damage; or
- A person, or that person’s family or partner, to feel harassed, annoyed, alarmed, abused, tormented, embarrassed, or offended.
These behaviors are evaluated under a reasonableness standard. The action that caused a person to fear death or injury must be an action that would cause a reasonable person to fear the same harm. So an alleged victim of stalking might fear someone will kill them. However, if that alleged victim is particularly sensitive or paranoid, the court might find that the fear was not reasonable.
Stalking is a third-degree felony offense unless the perpetrator has already been convicted of stalking. A previous conviction results in a second-degree felony charge.
Bullying is behavior defined under the Texas Education Code § 37.0832 as an act or series of acts directed at another student that:
- Exploits an imbalance of power;
- Involves engaging in written or verbal expression, expression through electronic means, or physical conduct;
- Physically harms or could physically harm a student;
- Damages or could damage a student’s property;
- Causes a student reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or property;
- Creates an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment for a student;
- Substantially disrupts the educational process or school order;
- Infringes on the rights of the victim at school; or
- Includes cyberbullying, which uses an electronic communication device.
Though these bullying laws may seem strict, a criminal defense attorney can try to get your elevated charges reduced or dismissed.
How Can an Attorney Help Defend You Against Harassment Charges?
A criminal defense attorney can evaluate all potential defenses to your harassment charge. Then the attorney will attempt to get your charges reduced or dismissed by presenting a persuasive defense.
At The Law Office of Simer and Tetens, we are experienced criminal defense attorneys who aggressively defend clients every day. We want the opportunity to review your case and let you know if we can help you as well.
We defend clients throughout Central Texas with personalized, trustworthy legal advice. Contact us for a free consultation.