Texas Stalking & Cyberstalking Laws, Penalties & Defenses
Can I be arrested and charged for stalking in Houston, TX?
If you face a difficult relationship with someone and are worried about legal actions they may consider, you may be wondering what it would take for you to be arrested and charged for stalking in Texas.
First, let us explain what constitutes stalking under Texas law.
STALKING IS A PATTERN OF MALICIOUS BEHAVIOR
Stalking is a crime in every U.S. state, but each state has its own stalking laws.
In Texas, stalking is considered to be a pattern of malicious behavior, in contrast to being a one-time occurrence.
That pattern of behavior can involve physical actions or interactions, such as repeatedly following someone on the street or indirect actions or interactions, such as repeatedly contacting someone via phone, social media, emails or other forms of communication.
In each case, these communications must be unwanted and unwelcome by the recipient, who then must fear for his or her well-being or safety as a result.
TEXAS STALKING LAWS, EXPLAINED
Under the Texas stalking laws in Texas Penal Code (Sec. 42.072), it is illegal for a person to engage in a pattern of behavior which they know or reasonably should know would cause another person to feel threatened or fearful.
For instance, if an estranged romantic partner demanded that a person leave them alone, then that person showing up at the estranged partner’s door repeatedly would be a reasonable cause of fear or anxiety which could be considered threatening.
Texas law also holds that stalking is a pattern of behavior which:
“causes the other person, a member of the other person’s family or household, or an individual with whom the other person has a dating relationship to be placed in fear of bodily injury or death or in fear that an offense will be committed against the other person’s property, or to feel harassed, annoyed, alarmed, abused, tormented, embarrassed, or offended.”
Keep in mind that stalking is not the same as sexual harassment, which often involves actions in the workplace and is a civil complaint, not a criminal complaint.
STALKING THREATS CAN BE OUTRIGHT OR IMPLIED
Stalking can involve outright threats, as well as implied or veiled threats.
What is an outright threat?
A victim may claim that he or she was threatened with violence or death by the stalker, or that a pet or loved one was threatened with violence.
What is an implied threat?
This can involve a suggestion of harm (for example: “I won’t be happy about this and you don’t know what I might do”) rather than an outright threatening statement.
In either case, a charge of stalking may ensue.
STALKING IS A THIRD-DEGREE FELONY IN TEXAS
Stalking is considered a serious crime under Texas law because it often leads to even more serious crimes, including violent ones. That is why stalking in Texas is a third-degree felony.
If convicted of stalking as a third-degree felony, a person faces a prison sentence of 2 to 10 years and a fine of as much as $10,000.
If a charge of stalking represents a repeat offense, then the crime becomes a second-degree felony, which is worse. Texas punishments for a second-degree felony include a prison sentence of 2 to 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
CYBERSTALKING ALSO IS A CRIME
Cyberstalking also is a crime under Texas law. Texas’ Electronic Communications Act of 2001 prohibits cyberstalking, cyber harassment and other forms of online abuse or harassment. These are serious criminal offenses in Texas and are viewed as a form of mental assault.
Cyberstalking can take a variety of forms, including:
- Online sexual abuse
- Facebook abuse
- Exhorting others to harass someone
- Urging to meet someone
- Monitoring someone’s Internet activities
- False claims or accusations
- Reputational damage
Charges for cyberstalking can range from a Class B misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. That means you could spend years in prison and face a fine of up to $10,000 after being charged with a crime which may have been only an unreasonable perception of communication or a false claim made in retaliation for an unhappy relationship.
Citing such unfounded accusations can be a defense against a cyberstalking charge. Other defenses can involve your right to free speech.
HIRE A HOUSTON STALKING DEFENSE ATTORNEY
Many acts may be construed as stalking or cyberstalking when, in fact, they are not. Occasionally checking in with someone is far different from persistently forcing that person to give you their attention.
Also, a person may make a false claim that they are the victim of stalking or some other crime as a form of retaliation or vengeance against you. A stalking claim may be entirely unfounded.
In any case, if you face a charge of stalking or cyberstalking in Texas, you must protect your legal rights, and that starts with contacting and engaging an experienced stalking defense attorney.
If you live in Houston, The Woodlands, Conroe, Sugar Land or elsewhere in Harris County, Montgomery County or Fort Bend County, don’t be railroaded by an unfair or unjust claim or accusation, or by overzealous police or prosecutors. You face potentially years in prison for a stalking charge, so you must have a stalking defense lawyer who will fight for your legal rights.