With the prevalence of the internet in all our lives, lawmakers have more seriously looked at issues that are specific to online behavior. New laws have been made just to address online interactions. For example, soliciting sex from a minor has always been illegal, but separate laws have been made for doing so online.
The same is true for harassment. Harassment between individuals has long been a matter of law, but with new communication methods comes new forms of harassment. Online harassment is illegal in Texas, and the charges are serious.
What Is Harassment on the Internet?
In 2009, online harassment became illegal in the Lone Star State. The law clearly defines what it considers harassment.
Impersonation is a major aspect of the law. Going online and pretending to be someone else is a form of harassment. There aren’t many grey areas in this accusation. Defense may argue that it happened only once, but prosecution can say that only once is enough.
Another way to harass someone online is by trying to cause them harm. If you use someone’s personal information on the internet to create damage, you can be charged with harassment. The mode of harassment can be any electronically based communication, from email to social media. Even sending text messages with the intent to harm or defraud someone could be charged as an online crime. Threatening someone online could also result in harassment claims.
In the late 2000s, a trend started popping up on the internet and the news. People started “swatting” one another. This is where one person sends false reports to the police that another person is involved in dangerous terrorist activities. Swatting videos went viral. People would be seen relaxing in their homes when police suddenly burst in. Some people thought these videos were funny. The law disagreed. Swatting is a serious offense. Not only is it a charge on its own, but it can also be paired with other charges like filing a false report.
Persistence is an important element of harassment accusations. Doing something once or twice might be a funny joke. Continually doing it, especially after you’ve been asked to stop, is going to look troublesome in the eyes of the law.
Penalties for Online Harassment
An online harassment charge is serious. Depending on the severity of the accusation and the number of offenses, it can range from a Class A misdemeanor (the highest misdemeanor) to a third-degree felony (the lowest felony). Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to a year in jail and fines of up to $4,000. Third degree felonies can land someone in jail for 2 to 10 years and may have fines as high as $10,000.
Defenses Against Online Harassment Accusations
Our team is here to defend Texans in criminal court, no matter the charge. You don’t have to take any criminal charge lying down. If you’ve been accused of harassing someone via the internet, we want to hear your side of the story. Looking at the facts of the case, we can find discrepancies and help you craft a credible defense.
It could be argued that what the prosecution perceives as harassment was just an expression of free speech. Every day, we are made aware of online fights among high-profile people. If your criticisms of someone were genuine and took place on a public forum, a case could be made that you were just engaging your right to free speech.
You Were Not Harassing Them
Quite simply, you can just use the facts of the case to deny the charge. Maybe you weren’t persistent. You said one simple thing to or about someone online, and they took it the wrong way. Even if the comment went too far, it may have happened only once. You were just blowing off steam, realized what you were doing, and never did it again.
One important aspect of any criminal charge is intent. You could argue that anything you said was just that, words, and you had no intention of backing it up with actions. Also, you have no control over someone else’s life. If your errant comment led to consequences for your accuser, like problems at work, it’s easy to make a case that you had no intention of actually affecting their lives in a negative way.
Cyberbullying tends to fall under a different classification in Texas’s legal system. It is mostly aimed at school-aged kids, and it usually doesn’t reach the level of an online harassment charge. Although it shares many of the same qualifications as harassment, it is handled in a different way.
If kids are bullying one another online, and it begins to affect their performance or social acceptance in school, it becomes a school matter. Even if parents report it to the police, the cops will likely defer to the school and allow them to handle it. Consequences for cyberbullying take place within the school’s disciplinary actions.
Of course, if school consequences don’t solve the problem, it may be time for the police to get involved with an official online harassment charge. From there, it will be handled by the juvenile justice system.
We want to help defend you against an internet harassment charge. Call us now at (979) 773-7028 or contact us online for a free consultation.