The Truth About Stalking Laws in Texas
Nearly everyone has been bothered by another person at some point or another. For example, a co-worker may repeatedly ask annoying questions or an ex-boyfriend may keep calling their former girlfriend only to immediately hang up. While these behaviors may be bothersome, they are not necessarily illegal. However, when someone crosses the line from annoying behavior to stalking, criminal charges may be filed.
Stalking is a serious issue that affects many people throughout the state of Texas. Men, women and children may all be the victims of stalking at some point in their lives. A person who is convicted of stalking may face serious legal repercussions.
What Is Stalking?
It’s important to understand the legal definition of stalking in order to better understand this criminal offense. The term “stalking” is often used in everyday conversation to refer to a wide range of behaviors. However, the legal definition of stalking may be very different from words used in casual conversation.
According to Section 42.072 of the Texas Penal Code, stalking is defined as a behavior which:
- Occurs on more than one occasion
- Is specifically directed at one person
- Places that person in fear of death or bodily injury
- Places that person if fear of death or bodily injury to a family member or romantic partner
- Causes that person to feel harassed, annoyed, embarrassed or in fear that their property will be damaged
Essentially, a person who repeatedly targets someone else and engages in behavior that could threaten or frighten another person may be charged with stalking.
Examples of Stalking
The letter of the law regarding stalking in Texas is very broad. This means that it can apply to a wide range of behaviors. Consider the following scenario:
Mike and Jen break up after dating for one year. Mike makes repeated phone calls to Jen after she asks him to stop. He also sends flowers to her office every week. On more than one occasion, Jen has seen Mike sitting in his car outside of her house and watching her.
If Jen decides to call the police, it is possible that Mike could be arrested and charged with stalking. Although he has made no specific threats of violence or injury, his behavior has made Jen feel harassed and fearful.
In another example, suppose that Alice is laid off from her job unexpectedly. She is angry with her boss and sends threatening letters to her boss’s home. These letters contain explicit language and threats of retaliation. It’s possible that Alice could be arrested on stalking charges. Because she used threatening language, her former boss could claim that she was in fear for her safety.
Stalking is a very serious crime in the state of Texas. Even a conviction for a first-time offense can have serious repercussions. In Texas, a person who is convicted on a stalking charge may face:
- Conviction on a third degree felony offense
- Incarceration in state prison for two to 10 years
- A fine of up to $10,000
A person who receives a second conviction for stalking may have their charge upgraded to second degree felony status, punishable by up to 20 years in state prison. This applies even if they have a stalking conviction in another state.
In addition to the penalties listed above, a person who is convicted of stalking may also be subject to a restraining order. This is a legal order preventing the subject from having any type of contact with the person who was the victim of stalking. Any violation of this order may be grounds for arrest, revocation of probation or parole and additional charges being filed.
Defending Against Stalking Accusations
A person who finds themselves dealing with accusations of stalking can be in real trouble. These kinds of allegations have the potential to ruin a person’s reputation and jeopardize their future. It’s important to deal with these accusations appropriately.
The first step is to hire an experienced defense attorney. This is the best chance at creating a solid legal defense. A defense attorney might argue that the prosecution does not have sufficient proof to convict the defendant on stalking charges. For example, if the prosecution does not have witness testimony, recordings or physical evidence of the stalking claims, the charges might not hold up in court.
The defense attorney could also argue that the defendant did not knowingly engage in stalking behavior and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
With strong arguments and good evidence, a defense attorney may be able to have stalking charges dropped by the court.
Have you or someone you know been charged with stalking? Attorney Matthew D. Sharp can help. Call his office today at 713-868-6100.