Stalking Laws in Texas: Definitions and Penalties
- December 21, 2016
- The Law Office of Greg Tsioros
- Comments Off on Stalking Laws in Texas: Definitions and Penalties
What Is Stalking in Texas?
In the state of Texas, citizens are protected by laws in many different ways. For example, they are protected from physical attacks by laws regarding assault. Their property is protected by laws regarding theft and robbery. Also, their peace, quality of life and privacy are protected by several laws, including stalking laws.
Stalking is a direct invasion of another person’s privacy and personal security. A person who commits a stalking offense may actually put another person in fear for their life and their safety. For this reason, a person who is guilty of stalking activities may be arrested, charged and convicted of a criminal offense.
Stalking: Defining The Crime
Many people have an idea about what activities constitute stalking behaviors. These ideas are usually informed by movies, television shows or perhaps personal life experiences. While some of these ideas may be partially based in truth, they may not always line up exactly with the wording of Texas stalking laws.
Section 42.072 of the Texas Penal Code spells out the exact definition of stalking behavior. In order to be charged with this offense, a person must:
On more than one occasion, engage in actions which are directed at one specific person or a person’s family members or property, which is done with the intent to cause fear of death or serious bodily injury in the person being threatened or their family members
In order for stalking charges to be applied, specific threats or behavior must be both targeted and repeated. Making a one-time threat that causes a person to fear serious bodily injury or death may result in aggravated assault charges, but this wouldn’t meet the definition of stalking behavior. Also, making blanket statements or threats against a group of people is not considered stalking. For stalking charges to apply, the threats or threatening behavior must be specific and targeted towards one person or their family members.
The threats can come in any form: verbal, physical or written communications like letters, emails and text messages. The threats can also be in the form of actions, such as threatening behaviors such as following a person around or showing up at their home or place of work unannounced and uninvited.
In order to visualize what kind of behavior can be considered stalking in Texas, it’s helpful to consider a few examples of these actions.
In one example, Martina and Louis were dating for two years before their relationship ended in an angry breakup. One week after the breakup, Martin begins sending Louis threatening text messages. She sends messages like “You better watch out…” and “Your family isn’t safe…” Also, Martina had an extensive history of violent behavior during their relationship, occasionally hitting Louis and destroying his property. Because these are specific threatening messages that are directed at a specific person, this may be considered stalking behavior. Because Martina has a proven history of violence, a reasonable person could assume that she knows that her threats will put Louis in fear of serious bodily injury or death. If Louis calls the police, Martina may be arrested and charged with stalking.
In another example, David and Alan work in the same office. They have an unfriendly relationship at first which gets worse over time. David begins leaving notes for Alan telling him to watch his back, as well as sending Alan pictures of weapons with messages like “I’m watching you.” Because David makes repeated threatening statements and gestures and his history of animosity makes Alan fear for his safety, David may be charged with stalking.
Legal Penalties and Associated Charges
Stalking charges are somewhat unique because they can often occur along with other, related charges. This is because the nature of stalking activities usually involves some type of threat to safety or property.
Before taking a look at the other types of related charges, let’s first look at the basic stalking charge. In Texas, a conviction for stalking is a felony of the third degree. This is punishable by:
- Up to 10 years in Texas prison
- A fine of up to $10,000
A person who has previously been convicted of stalking who is convicted of this crime for a second time can have their charge upgraded to a second degree felony. This is punishable by:
- Two to 20 years in Texas state prison
- A fine of up to $10,000
In some cases, a person who is charged with stalking may also be charged with similar or related offenses. These offenses can include:
- Criminal mischief
- Assault or aggravated assault
- Terroristic threats
A person who is charged with stalking and other additional offenses may be prosecuted on all of the charges, some of them or just one. In addition, a person charged with multiple offenses may enter a guilty plea with the court in order to have some of their charges dropped or reduced.
In some cases, a person who is charged with stalking or convicted of stalking may also be issued a restraining order or a criminal trespassing order. These orders may mandate that the subject of the order should have no contact with the victim of their stalking. If they violate this order, they may face additional charges, the revocation of probation or parole or a warrant may be issued for their arrest.