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Harassment Laws in Texas

Criminal Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

Harassment Laws in Texas

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The Law on Harassment in Texas

Texas state laws serve many purposes. One of the most important purposes of these laws is to maintain peace and public order. Some laws ensure this goal by criminalizing dangerous or violent actions. However, some laws maintain public order by criminalizing undesirable or threatening behavior.

Harassment laws are a great example of this. A person who engages in threatening, intimidating or obnoxious behavior that is directed at another person may be guilty of the crime of harassment. What may seem like a harmless prank can have real consequences if the victim is seriously disturbed by the behavior.

The Definition of Harassment

Texas law is very clear on the definition of harassment. There are two primary elements to a harassment offense. These elements are:

  • The intent of the perpetrator
  • The harassing behavior itself

The first component, intent, refers to the desire or goal of the person committing the act. According to Texas Penal Code Section 42.07, a person committing harassment must have an intent to “harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment or embarrass” another person.

The second component of the act is the actual harassing behavior itself. Harassment as a criminal offense can include a large number of different activities. The Texas Penal Code lists the following activities which may be considered criminal harassment:

  • Communicating with another person and requesting an obscene activity, such as sexual activity
  • Threatening to inflict bodily harm on another person or threatening to commit a felony against another person, their family members or their property
  • Conveying a false report of the death or bodily injury of another person
  • Repeatedly calling another person on the telephone in an annoying manner or making phone calls and intentionally failing to hang up the call when it is answered
  • Sending electronic communications, such as emails or text messages, in an annoying, threatening or abusive manner

Most of these definitions of harassing behavior include a stipulation that the behavior must be done in a way that is reasonably likely to alarm the person receiving the communication. This is done to prevent people from being penalized for behavior that is not legally considered harassment.

Harassment vs Bullying and Stalking

Harassment, although similar to other behaviors such as bullying and stalking, is noticeably different from these other behaviors. The primary difference is that harassment typically occurs through a communication medium, such as:

  • Telephones
  • Email
  • Text messages

Stalking and bullying often involve physically pursuing or sending items to another person in a threatening manner. For example, a person who repeatedly follows an ex-spouse home from work may be charged with stalking.

However, it is possible for a person to be charged with stalking even if they only engage in threatening behavior through a means of communication. A person who places another person or their family members into a reasonable belief that they will come to serious harm or death by threatening them may be charged with stalking.

Legal Penalties

A person who is convicted of harassment in Texas can expect some harsh punishments. A first time conviction for stalking can lead to:

  • Up to six months of incarceration in county jail
  • A fine of up to $2000

A person who is convicted of a second harassment offense will face enhanced punishments. A second conviction for harassment is a Class A misdemeanor offense and is punishable by:

  • Up to one year in county jail
  • A fine of up to $4000

In addition to these punishments, a person who is convicted of harassment may be served with a restraining order. This means that they will be legally banned from having any contact with the person protected by the order. Violating the terms of this order may lead to additional penalties, revocation of probation or the issuing of a warrant.

Fighting charges of harassment in court is best done with the help of a criminal defense attorney. An attorney may use evidence to show that the defendant had no criminal intent and contacted the alleged victim by mistake or for an innocent purpose. They may also negotiate with the court to arrange a plea bargain for reduced jail time.

Have you or someone you know been charged with harassment. Attorney Greg Tsioros can help you navigate the Texas legal system and protect your rights. Call his office today at 832-752-5972.

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