What is Harassment?
To prove a harassment charge, the prosecutor must show that the defendant communicated or said something offensive or objectionable. Prior to the Internet age, a harassment charge might have involved a conversation (either over the telephone or in person) between the defendant and another party.
Today, harassment laws cover all types of communications, including texts, emails, and posts on social network sites.
Next, the prosecutor must show that the communication was possibly intended to “harass, embarrass, annoy, torment, or alarm” the victim. Effect and intent frequently create the defense strategy against a harassment charge.
In Texas, threats of death or bodily injury, incessantly calling the victim, making inappropriate and/or obscene proposals, or sending many electronic communications are examples of these types of communications.
The sender’s objective is quite relevant as well as the “likely effect” of his or her communications on the recipient.
For instance, if a debt collection agent contacts a debtor and admits that the purpose of the contact was to harass the debtor until he or she paid the bill, then the collector may face harassment charges in Texas. The collector admitted that the calls were intended to annoy the victim.
Casually-used phrases may seem threatening or inflammatory to some recipients.
For example, if Harry says to James, “I will kick your butt,” it’s important to interpret how Harry meant James to take these words and under what circumstances they were used.
James might believe that Harry meant to inflict bodily injury and harm. In comparison, Harry might argue that he made the comment in fun during a regular card game. If Harry made no additional threats or comments—and no one else in their company felt alarmed, harassed or annoyed—the defense could rebut James’ understanding of the intent of this statement.
Let’s imagine that James goes to the police and the state of Texas files harassment charges against Harry.
The prosecutor must introduce evidence or testimony that Harry’s comments were “intended to harass or alarm” James and that, indeed, these words were “likely to alarm” him.
Evidence presented might include Harry’s hostile or angry words and actions towards James at the time he said “I will kick your butt.” For instance, if Harry took steps towards James while shaking his fist after James won a hand of cards, the jury might conclude that Harry intended to alarm James.
Aggravating factors and harassment
Aggravating factors may elevate a harassment charge.
For instance, if an individual frequently and repeatedly makes harassing communications, he or she might face a stalking offense.
If he or she made obscene proposals to the victim in emails—and he or she was a minor child—then the charge may be elevated to online solicitation of a minor.
Harassment Conviction Consequences
Most harassment charges don’t involve aggravating circumstances. The average defendant faces a misdemeanor charge. If convicted, he or she faces a one to two-year jail sentence.
After conviction, he or she may be placed on probation for a first offense. Probation usually requires him or her to enter a rehab program for the harassment charge. For instance, if the defendant made a harassing statement to someone in a pique of anger, participation in an anger management program may be mandated.
A harassment conviction may have additional negative consequences:
- He or she may face employment challenges. (The offender must advise current and future employers about the conviction.)
- He or she may face collateral lawsuits. For instance, a parent might file a civil lawsuit/injunction against the defendant who harassed their child.
Texas Harassment Laws
Under Texas Penal Code Section 42.07, an individual committing harassment must be shown to intend to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass someone else.
The act of harassment involves the actor’s harassing behavior(s). According to the Texas Penal Code, these activities may be viewed as criminal harassment:
- Sending a communication to another party to request an obscene activity, such as sexual intercourse.
- Communicating a threat to inflict bodily injuries or harm on another party, or threatening to commit any type of felony act against him or her, family members, or property belonging to him/her/them.
- Communicating a false report regarding bodily injury or death of another party.
- Constantly calling another party on the phone to annoy him or her (or making ‘hang up’ calls to him or her).
- Sending text or email communications (or other electronic communications) in an abusive, threatening, or annoying way.
Again, the law says that the sender must have communicated in a way that would reasonably cause alarm to the recipient. This protects individuals from facing penalties for behaviors that aren’t considered legal harassment.
Contact The Law Office of Brett Podolsky today to protect your rights >>
Harassment vs. Bullying and Stalking
Although harassment has some similarities to stalking and bullying, it’s distinct from these behaviors.
Harassment usually occurs through a telephone, text or email program.
In contrast, stalking and bullying behaviors typically include physical pursuit of the victim and/or sending items to him or her in a threatening fashion. For instance, an individual who follows a former lover home from the office each day may face stalking charges.
It’s possible for an individual to face stalking charges even when he or she only engages in threatening behaviors via communications. An individual who causes another individual (or his or her family members) to reasonably believe that he or she will cause serious injury or death may face stalking charges.
If convicted of stalking, the first-time offender faces up to six months in county jail and/or significant fines.
If convicted of a second harassment offense, the offender faces a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.
In addition, the offender convicted of harassment may also face a restraining order. He or she may be banned from future contact with the victim protected under the order.
Other Types of Harassment
Many folks mistakenly assume that interpersonal or sexual harassment is the only form of harassment that happens.
In addition, anti-discrimination laws protect certain types of individuals:
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) bans harassment of an individual on the basis of his or her national original, race, sex, or religion. Racial epithets may constitute proof of racial harassment.
- Veterans are protected from harassment.
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects older Americans from harassment because of age.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects disabled people (including obese individuals) from harassment, e.g. discriminatory “fat jokes.”
The law also protects individuals from harassment on the bases of marital status or sexual orientation, gender identification, political beliefs, occupation, citizenship status, heritage, smoking/non-smoking status, and others.
In summary, national and state laws say it’s never appropriate to harass another person or group of people for any reason.
Fight Harassment Charges with an Experienced Defense Lawyer in Houston TX
If you or someone you care about is facing harassment, stalking, or bullying charges, it’s important to contact an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer right away to protect your legal rights.
Contact the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky in Houston at 713-227-0087 to schedule an initial case evaluation now.