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How Texas Handles Stalkers: Laws and Penalties

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Stalking is a big problem that affects the lives of many Texans. Almost everyone has experienced extreme annoyance with another person’s persistence or actions. For instance, a former girlfriend or boyfriend may make repeated hang-up calls or a co-worker might ask incessant or overly personal questions. These behaviors are irksome but not usually illegal. However, when another person’s merely bothersome actions turn to intimidating stalking behavior, it’s possible to file criminal charges.

Have you been charged with a stalking or harassment-related crime in Texas? The Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky is prepared to help you fight these charges. Click here to schedule a consultation today.

The defendant faces serious legal consequences if convicted of a stalking offense. If you have been charged with stalking, you need a criminal defense attorney now. Don’t risk the future consequences of a permanent criminal record. Stalking is considered a more serious and felonious version of harassment. Harassment is a misdemeanor crime.

Texas law says that the offense of stalking involves making multiple threatening or harassing actions or behaviors against another person. Since Texas law allows for an objective reasonable standard, if a person says “I’m being stalked,” it doesn’t automatically rise to criminal stalking levels. The law wisely considers the possibility that an individual may be oversensitive to the actions or words of another person. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible if you face a stalking offense in Texas.

Legal Definitions of Stalking in Texas

Texas Penal Code Section 42.072 defines stalking as when a person on at least two occasions knowingly or reasonably should know that his or her actions or behavior will be considered threatening or cause another person to have concerns about bodily injury or death.

The actor may also appear threatening to another member of an individual’s family* or to his or her household.** When the individual acts upon his or her dating partner (someone with whom there’s a “dating relationship,”***) or when an individual has reasonable concerns that the actor plans to commit an offense against property, or generally causes the other person to feel abused, tormented, or offended, it may be possible for the prosecution to prove the defendant stalked another person.

A crime of stalking is clearly “malicious” in nature. Stalking:

  • Happens more than once
  • Is directly targeted at one individual
  • Puts that individual in “fear of death or bodily injury”
  • Causes “fear of death or bodily injury” to the romantic partner or family member of someone else
  • Creates feelings of fear and embarrassment in another person or fear that property he or she owns will be damaged by the actor

In other words, an individual who directs words or threats at another person and then proceeds to frighten another person may be charged with the criminal offense of stalking. Examples of stalking include but are not limited to:

  • Repeatedly threatening another person by phone calls
  • Appearing at another person’s workplace
  • Following him or her
  • Stealing his or her mail
  • Sending unwanted gifts
  • Vandalizing his or her property

An experienced criminal defense attorney will attack charges made against you by challenging one or all of these elements in addition to many other defense strategies.

(*) Texas Family Code § 71.003 defines “family”
(**) Texas Family Code § 71.005 defines “household”
(***) Texas Family Code § 71.0021 (b)(c) defines “dating relationship” and considers length, nature, frequency/type of interaction. A “casual relationship” isn’t considered a “dating relationship” under the law.

How Stalking is Investigated?

Under § 42.072 of the Texas Penal Code, investigation of stalking considers both the intent and conduct of the alleged stalker:

  • Law enforcement considers whether actions and behaviors of the alleged stalker have instilled “fear or death or bodily injury” to the targeted victim or a member of the target’s family or household. Threats made by the stalker may be either explicit, such as “I’m going to kill you,” or implied, such as when the perpetrator harms a family pet. The threat of the stalker must be specifically targeted at a certain person. They can’t be general threats, such as “I’m so angry I feel like killing someone.” A threat to the target is typically conveyed by the alleged stalker but it may also be relayed by another party acting on behalf of him or her. Recordings of threats made by phone, videos of an incident, dated photographs of the alleged stalker, diaries kept by the accuser, and written correspondence may be used as evidence.
  • The alleged stalker’s conduct is also considered. The alleged stalker must demonstrate the malicious conduct on more than one occasion. As long as the alleged stalker’s conduct is captured in at least one police report, it’s unnecessary for him or her to file multiple reports. For instance, the victim may report that the alleged stalker threatened by mail, phone, text message, or damaged his or her property.

Know that it is relatively easy to be charged with stalking in Texas. It’s possible to be charged and convicted of criminal stalking even if you didn’t physically harm another person or damage their property. Stalking simply means that behavior has caused another person to feel harassed or threatened.

Just two explicit threats, such as a voicemail or text message that makes a direct threat to the target, or at least two implicit threats, such as causing indirect harm to property owned by the target, can result in a conviction. If you or someone you love has been accused of a criminal stalking crime, it’s imperative to take immediate legal action. Call board-certified criminal defense attorney Brett A. Podolsky in Houston to arrange a free consultation now.

The Texas stalking law’s reference to property can include car or furniture or a pet. For instance, if someone alleges that you vandalized his or her car more than once, or that you broke windows or doors at their home to threaten him or her, this may be considered stalking. Harming a pet belonging to another person more than once can result in a stalking charge in Texas.

Legal Penalties of Stalking

If convicted of stalking, the defendant faces a third-degree felony offense. If the defendant was previously convicted of stalking in Texas or another state, a federally-recognized tribe, U.S. territory, or federal offense, penalties are upgraded to a second-degree felony.

A first offense carries a prison sentence of two to 10 years and a maximum fine of $10,000. A second offense carries a prison sentence of two to 20 years and a maximum fine of $10,000.

In addition to the legal penalties, the convict may be additionally subject to the victim’s filing of a restraining order. This prevents the offender from having future contact of any sort with the stalking victim. If the offender violates the restraining order after serving his or her legal penalties, it’s possible to face a new arrest, revocation or parole or probation, and new criminal charges.

If accused of a stalking offense in Houston, Harris County, or throughout Texas, it’s essential to immediately address the matter. An allegation of stalking has the potential to jeopardize your future. Brett A. Podolsky, a former Assistant Criminal District Attorney for the state of Texas, has more than 17 years’ experience in championing clients’ rights and interests. Call The Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky now at 713-227-0087 to arrange a confidential, free initial evaluation.

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