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Texas Penal Code Harassment

March 21, 2024 Uncategorized

Understanding Texas Penal Code Harassment Laws

Harassment laws in Texas aim to protect people from unwanted communication or conduct that is threatening, alarming, annoying, abusive, or emotionally distressing. But what exactly constitutes harassment from a legal perspective? Let’s break down the key provisions in Texas’ harassment statutes and what they mean.

What is Considered Harassment Under Texas Law?

There are a few different criminal harassment offenses defined in Section 42.07 of the Texas Penal Code:

  • Making repeated phone calls to someone with the intent to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass.
  • Making repeated phone calls that anonymously threaten someone or their family.
  • Sending repeated electronic communications that threaten, harass, or intimidate someone.

So in Texas, harassment involves some kind of repeated communication like phone calls, texts, emails, social media messages, etc. And the intent or impact has to be threatening, harassing, annoying, alarming, abusive, etc.
A single mean message usually wouldn’t qualify. But a pattern of unwanted communication very well could, even if each individual message seems harmless on its own.
There’s also a separate Texas law prohibiting electronic transmission of sexually explicit visual material without consent. This covers things like revenge porn or sexting.

What Kind of Penalties Does Texas Impose for Harassment?

Most first-time harassment offenses under Section 42.07 are class B misdemeanors, punishable by:

  • Up to 180 days in jail.
  • Fines of up to $2,000.

But penalties can be enhanced in certain situations – for example, if the victim is under 17 or over 65. Repeated violations can also lead to felony charges.
The penalties for unlawful disclosure of intimate visual material under Section 42.065 depend on the specific circumstances but include the possibility of state jail or third degree felony charges.

When Does Free Speech Protection End and Harassment Begin?

The First Amendment protects free speech, including speech that’s offensive, annoying, or controversial. So harassment laws can’t be used to punish protected speech. As the Supreme Court put it, the government can’t “forbid particular words without also running a substantial risk of suppressing ideas in the process.”
But true threats and targeted harassment fall outside First Amendment protection. So it’s a complex line for courts to walk in harassment cases – balancing free speech rights against protection from abuse. Some key questions they consider include:

  • Would an objective, reasonable person feel threatened or distressed by the communication?
  • Was there a pattern of unwanted communication as opposed to an isolated incident?
  • Did the communication directly target a specific person or group?

When offensive speech rises to the level of personally abusive, threatening harassment, or stalking rather than just being uncomfortable ideas, it loses its constitutional protection.

What Defenses Can Be Raised Against Harassment Charges?

Some potential defenses to raise against harassment allegations include:

  • The communication didn’t actually cause harm or distress.
  • There was no evidence of intent to harass, only to communicate.
  • The speech was protected opinion, satire, or hyperbole rather than a true threat.
  • The communication was invited or consented to.
  • Someone else accessed your account to send the messages.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can evaluate the available evidence and determine if any viable defenses apply in your specific case.

Restraining Orders Can Also Help Address Harassment

Beyond potential criminal penalties, victims of severe or persistent harassment may want to consider pursuing a protective order, also known as a restraining order.
Restraining orders can prohibit the harasser from:

  • Contacting the victim, directly or through third parties.
  • Going near the victim’s home, school, or workplace.
  • Threatening or physically harming the victim.

Violating a restraining order can lead to civil or criminal contempt charges. So these court orders provide another layer of protection and consequences for harassment.

Don’t Ignore Persistent Harassment – Seek Help

Dealing with a harasser can be frustrating and scary. But Texas law provides both criminal and civil remedies to help put an end to abusive behavior that crosses the line.
So if you feel threatened or distressed by repeated unwanted communication, document the incidents and speak to a harassment attorney or law enforcement about your options to make it stop. Nobody should have to tolerate persistent abuse or stalking.
Harassment laws aim to strike a balance – allowing free speech while protecting vulnerable people from targeted threats, abuse, and stalking. Understanding what does and doesn’t cross that line is key. So reach out to an attorney if you have any questions or need advice for your specific situation.

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