Understanding harassment under the Texas Penal Code is essential, as it can occur anywhere—from college campuses to one’s home—and involve anyone, from strangers to acquaintances. This article delves into the definition of harassment, distinguishes between criminal and civil harassment, and outlines the penalties for each, offering clarity and solutions for those affected.
What is Criminal Harassment?
According to Texas Penal Code, harassment is any “act meant to annoy, torment, embarrass, abuse, alarm, or harass another person”. This means that criminal harassment is seen as an offense in which the perpetrator’s behavior is not only seen as bothersome and annoying, but also causes alarm or fear for the victim.
In most cases, harassment is a misdemeanor, and is commonly done by phone, through texting or email. Repeated harassment is treated as a felony in the court of law.
What is Civil Harassment?
On the other hand, Texas law defines civil harassment as “an injury to a person based on their protected status”. The protected status refers to specific aspects of the person’s identity, due to which they are considered to be in a vulnerable position. Examples of this are age, gender or disability-based harassment.
There are four types of civil harassment:
- Harassment in the workplace;
- Abuse of a family member such as spouse, child, or romantic partner;
- Harassment by a person the victim has never been romantically involved;
- Elderly abuse and abuse of dependent adults.
Intent Requirements in Harassment Laws
Essentially, intent pertains to the conscious aim or objective behind an action. In cases of harassment, it is insufficient for someone to simply feel harassed; the accused harasser must have acted with the explicit intention of causing distress or unease.
To consistently cause agitation or distress to an individual by means of recurrent unwelcome interactions, pursuing them, or engaging in other behaviors that continuously disrupt their tranquility.
To provoke or disrupt, typically through repetitive behavior or actions that are unwelcome. It is a milder form of harassment, yet still induces discomfort.
To induce a sense of apprehension or an elevated level of attentiveness, one may employ methods that involve making individuals feel threatened or taking actions that instill concern for their safety or overall welfare.
To engage in acts of harshness or aggression, particularly on a consistent or recurring basis. In the context of harassment, this frequently pertains to the infliction of emotional or psychological harm, although it may also encompass physical behavior.
To cause significant physical or psychological suffering, surpassing mere irritation and implying a degree of cruelty or severity in the conduct.
To induce feelings of self-consciousness or shame in an individual, one may employ tactics such as divulging personal details, ridiculing, or engaging in behaviors that degrade or diminish the person, whether in a public or private setting.
Importance of Intent in Harassment Cases
The presence of intent as a requirement ensures that individuals are legally held responsible only when they engage in actions with deliberate and harmful intent. Incidental or unintentional behaviors that may cause annoyance or alarm to others would typically not meet this threshold.
For instance, if an individual mistakenly sends a text message to the wrong number, even if the recipient is irritated, there is no intention to harass or annoy. Therefore, such an incident would not be classified as harassment under the law.
How is Intent Proven?
Intent is typically established through circumstantial evidence. Indications of intent may include the repetitive nature of actions, such as the sending of numerous unwanted messages, explicit threats, or other observable behaviors that serve to showcase intention.
Criminal Harassment Examples
In reality, criminal harassment can take many forms.
In Texas, harassment is legally defined as actions executed with the “intent to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass another.” This includes a range of acts where the context, frequency, and relationship between the involved parties are key determinants.
Definition: Sending lewd, vulgar, or indecent messages.
Example: Transmitting explicit photos or messages about sexual acts without consent.
Definition: Making threats of harm or violence.
Example: Messages like, “Watch your back, I’m coming for you,” or “You’ll regret crossing me.”
False Alarms About Serious Bodily Injury or Death of a Family Member
Definition: Spreading false information about a family member’s injury or death.
Example: Falsely informing someone about a sibling’s severe car accident.
Repeated Telephone or Electronic Communications
Definition: Continuously sending unwanted calls, texts, emails, or electronic messages.
Example: An ex-partner bombarding with emails and texts despite requests to stop.
Making Phone Calls and Hanging Up
Definition: Calling and disconnecting without speaking, repeatedly.
Example: Receiving multiple hang-up calls from an unknown number.
Publishing Repeated Electronic Communications Online Not of Public Concern
Definition: Posting non-public interest messages or content on social media to cause distress.
Example: Sharing private messages from a past relationship on social platforms.
Definition: Repeated derogatory comments or actions based on race, gender, religion, etc., in a work environment.
Example: Derogatory jokes or comments about personal attributes at work.
Definition: Persistently following or observing someone without their consent.
Example: Continuously tracking someone’s movements leading to fear and distress.
Cyberbullying Among Adolescents
Definition: Using electronic means to bully peers, such as through social media or text messages.
Example: Adolescents targeting peers with bullying messages on social media.
Telemarketers are excluded from this list, since they do not intend to alarm the person they are trying to reach out to.
Penalties for Harassment Under Texas Law
Texas law prescribes severe penalties for harassment, regardless the charged person has or doesn’t have prior convictions.
Commonly, people who have been found guilty of harassing another person will receive a restraining order in addition to their penalty. This means they cannot legally communicate with the person they harassed and will get further penalties if they try to contact them. Another thing to expect is probation.
A first-time harassment conviction is considered a Class B misdemeanor and comes with a sentence of up to 6 months in prison and a financial fine of up to $2,000.
Second-time harassment is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a year in prison and a fine of up to $4,000.
A first-time stalking offense is considered to be a third-degree felony and leads to between two to ten years in prison and a hefty fine of up to $10,000.
Second-time stalking offense is described as a second-degree felony, punishable by between 2 and 20 years in prison.
Filing Criminal Harassment
Charges in Texas
If you are facing harassment charges, make sure not to communicate with the person filing the case without getting in touch with a criminal defense attorney. Anything you say may be seen as further harassment, and a seasoned lawyer like GHC Law Firm can advise you on how to proceed or communicate important information on your behalf.
In case you have found yourself in a situation where you feel prompted to file harassment charges, contact us today at (512) 614-4412 for free consultations.
Frequently Asked Questions
The Penal Code for harassment in Texas can be found under Title 9, Chapter 42. This chapter outlines various offenses related to harassment, including stalking, cyberbullying, and repeated unwanted communication.
According to the Texas Harassment Penal Code, harassment is defined as intentionally engaging in a course of conduct directed at another person that causes fear, annoyance, annoyance, or harassment. This includes but is not limited to acts such as following, monitoring, or threatening.
Under the Texas Penal Code, harassment is considered a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and/or a jail term of up to 180 days. Repeat offenders or cases involving certain aggravating factors may be charged with felony harassment, which carries a more severe penalty of up to 10 years in prison. The Texas Harassment Penal Code also includes provisions for restraining orders, allowing victims to seek legal protection against their harassers.
Harassment under Texas law can be considered both a misdemeanor and a felony, depending on the severity of the offense and the circumstances surrounding it. Misdemeanor harassment is generally punishable by up to one year in jail, while felony harassment carries potential penalties of up to 10 years in prison. The Texas Harassment Penal Code defines harassment as any unwanted communication or conduct, including but not limited to following, threatening, threatening, or intimidating another person.
In 2001, the implementation of the Texas Telemarketing Disclosure and Privacy Act bestowed upon the Public Utility Commission of Texas the authority to establish a Statewide Do Not Call List. This list catered specifically to residential customers who desired to halt telemarketing calls to their households. In order to safeguard both residential and business electric customers from unwanted calls concerning their retail electric service, legislators created the Electric No Call List for Retail Electric Providers (REPs) and their associated telemarketers.
During the 2005 Texas Legislative session, the Statewide Do Not Call List and the Electric No Call List were merged into a comprehensive list encompassing the enrollment of residential, wireless, and business phone numbers. However, it is important to note that the Electric No Call List is restricted to the enrollment of business phone numbers exclusively.