Messina Madson & Kendall Castello, MC Criminal Law
Stalking: How Does a Messy Break-up Become a Crime?
When it comes to stalking, there are two different kinds of cases: stranger and past partner. This article will not address stranger stalking, which often deals with such variants as celebrities or mental illness. Instead this article discusses situations that occur when a romantic break-up becomes so messy that the criminal justice system gets involved.
What is Stalking?
First, it’s important to note that Texas law is extremely broad when it comes to stalking. The definition was expanded in 2017, and often, charges are left to the discretion of law enforcement.
Harassment is the lower charge. The misdemeanor offense can result in jailtime up to one year and a maximum fine of $4,000. Harassment has a LONG list of prohibited activities, detailed in the Texas Penal Code, Harassment: https://codes.findlaw.com/tx/penal-code/penal-sect-42-07.html
BE AWARE: Just two incidents of harassment can escalate the charge to a stalking felony.
Stalking is the felony charge that involves these same behaviors done repeatedly, as well as some additional prohibited acts. A stalking felony charge carries a punishment range of 2-10 years, or probation, and up to a $10,000 fine. Details are listed in the Texas Penal Code, Stalking: https://codes.findlaw.com/tx/penal-code/penal-sect-42-072.html
What should I do if I am accused of harassment or stalking?
Stop all contact with your ex immediately. Many activities that occur in a typical break up could be grounds for a criminal charge. So where do you draw the line? Here’s the most critical rule of thumb: If law enforcement contacts you in ANY way, immediately stop ALL communications with your ex. You may want to ask for an explanation, but do NOT ask them. You may want to explain yourself; do NOT reach out. You may want to vent your frustration, but your ex can NO LONGER be your outlet.
Do NOT speak to a police officer without an attorney. Sometimes police will contact someone suspected of harassment or stalking to get their side of the story. If you are contacted by law enforcement for this reason, seek legal advice immediately—BEFORE speaking to law enforcement. You should not speak to the police, give consent for any search, or provide any passwords without first consulting an experienced criminal lawyer. And most importantly, find an attorney you trust. When our clients get us involved early in the process, we often can prevent any criminal case from being filed.
Always heed a police warning. At times, a police officer will inform someone that an ex has contacted law enforcement, and the officer will give a warning. If that happens, law enforcement often waits to see if there is any additional contact. If nothing happens, the officer may not file a case. If contact occurs, the case is likely to be filed. An ignored warning also will be used against you in the trial.
If you are accused of stalking in Texas, the smart thing to do is contact an experienced attorney. Madson Castello has extensive experience in stalking and harassment cases, including statewide training. Call today to set up an appointment.