While you likely know that stalking is illegal in Texas and throughout the nation, you may not know how to define stalking or what the charge is all about. In the State of Texas, stalking is best defined as a pattern of malicious actions – rather than a single occurrence of maliciousness.
If you are facing a stalking charge – or any criminal charge – don’t wait to consult with an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney.
What Is Stalking?
According to the Texas stalking penal code, stalking charges relate to engaging in a pattern of ongoing behaviors toward someone else that would cause reasonable people to experience fear or emotional distress. Often, stalkers make threats that are focused on harming or killing any of the following people:
The target’s romantic partner
Members of the target’s family
The legal definition of stalking applies even when the stalker in question sends someone else to do the dirty work. Further, the threat doesn’t have to be specifically stated – it can also be conveyed by the stalker’s conduct.
To stalk is to pursue someone obsessively to the point of harassment, and stalking refers to ongoing participation in this illegal activity. According to the Texas Attorney General’s Office, “a stalker tries to control his or her victim through behavior or threats intended to intimidate and terrify.” A stalker can have any (or none) of the following relationships with the victim:
Someone who is known to the victim
Someone who isn’t known to the victim
Someone who is an acquaintance of the victim
Someone who is a former intimate partner of the victim
To make things even murkier, a stalker’s motivation can range from obsessive love to obsessive hatred.
Is It Stalking?
According to the legal definition of stalking, all of the following repeated actions qualify as stalking under Texas law:
Following the victim or members of the victim’s family or household
Doing damage to the victim’s property, such as by vandalizing a car, harming a pet, or breaking a window in a home
Sending threatening mail to the victim
Driving by or parking near the victim’s home, the victim’s office, or a place the victim frequents
What Proof Is Needed for Stalking Charges?
In order to prove stalking according to the stalking Texas penal code, the alleged stalker’s intent and conduct must both be taken into consideration. If you are facing stalking charges, your skilled Killeen criminal defense attorney will build your defense around these two points.
In order for the accused’s intention to rise to the level of stalking, he or she must intend to instill fear of bodily injury or death in the victim or someone close to the victim.
While the threats can be explicit – stating exactly the kind of harm he or she plans on inflicting – it isn’t a requirement. The stalker’s threats can also be either implied or veiled. General threats that do not apply to a specific person, however, do not suffice. Further, the threats must be made either by the stalker or by someone who is acting directly on his or her behalf.
In order for the accused’s conduct to reach the level of stalking, one of the following conditions must apply:
The conduct is not an isolated event but, instead, occurs on multiple occasions.
The conduct is directed at the victim or at someone close to him or her.
The conduct involves threatening contact via phone or mail.
The threats involve damage to property owned by the victim.
Is Stalking a Felony?
In the State of Texas, stalking is generally charged as a felony. Felony stalking begins with a third-degree classification, which is a very serious offense, but the charge can be elevated according to the circumstances involved. The more serious the victim’s injuries or the more fear he or she experienced in the course of the stalking, the more severe the charge is likely to be.
If the victim of the stalking falls into any of the following classifications, the charge can be increased to a second-degree felony:
Someone who is over the age of 60
Someone who is disabled
Someone who is a minor
Someone who is a public servant
If the stalking charge is not the accused’s first, the charge can be elevated to a second-degree or even first-degree felony.
Penalties for Felony Stalking Charges
Texas takes the crime of stalking very seriously, and the associated fines and penalties reflect this fact. Aggravating factors, such as the use of a deadly weapon in the course of stalking, increase the fines and penalties accordingly.
When the stalking charge is a third-degree felony, the penalties and fines include a prison sentence of 2 to 10 years and fines of up to $10,000.
When the stalking charge is a second-degree felony, the penalties and fines include a prison sentence of 2 to 20 years and fines of up to $10,000.
When the stalking charge is a first-degree felony, the penalties and fines include a prison sentence of 5 to 99 years and fines of up to $10,000
What Are Restraining Orders?
Stalking definition laws in Texas include two statutes that allow stalking victims to obtain protective orders against their stalkers. Neither includes any requirements regarding the victim’s relationship with the alleged stalker.
However, one version applies only if the court is considering making formal allegations against the accused (an article 6.09), while the other (an article 7A) is available whether criminal charges are filed or not.
A restraining order or protective order can be implemented even when there is no overt act of violence, which includes stalking. Contact a skilled Killeen lawyer if you feel you need a restraining order.
A Terrifying Example of Stalking in Texas
According to CBS News, a young college student was found murdered in a Texas park in 2016. When police began investigating this case, they found that stalking had a strong role to play.
The police quickly uncovered video surveillance of the 24-year-old woman with the man she had been seen with last. The victim had just met the man, but his former girlfriend came forward with additional information that helped to flesh the story out.
The ex-girlfriend had dated the man for several months but recently broke off their relationship. The man continued to show up on her college campus, which led to three arrests. The young woman stated, “He was just trying to win me back, and I was just like, nothing is going to work.” The woman ultimately filed a restraining order against him.
Connecting the Man to the Murder
The man became a murder suspect, but there wasn’t enough evidence to implicate him from the start. However, shortly after the murder victim was found, the man attempted to contact his ex-girlfriend yet again. This contact attempt violated the restraining order she’d obtained against him and led to questioning by the police.
Taking His Anger Out on a Substitute
The man was questioned and ultimately admitted to being with the murder victim on the night she died. He claimed that she’d died accidentally after they had engaged in consensual sex.
However, the officer interviewing him believed that the man was the murderer and that his actions were triggered by his ex-girlfriend’s rejection. The ex-girlfriend stated, ”I think he really wanted to kill me. I think that he wanted me dead.”
The Dating Relationship
The murder suspect was about a decade older than his ex, and they dated for only a few months before she called things off due to what she identified as warning signs. When he showed up at her mom’s home the next evening, he talked her into getting back together, but when she left for college shortly afterward, she broke up with him again.
Just over a week later, the man was arrested on her campus – he was picked up for what the arresting officer thought was impaired driving in the wee hours of the morning. While the man was not over the legal limit of .08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC), he was charged with several outstanding parking tickets before being released.
The next day, he was back on his ex’s campus – knocking on the door to her dorm. The fact that she had not given him her address frightened her, and she called the campus police.
The Officer’s Involvement
When the young woman notified the campus police, she shared statements like the following:
“I just did not like the way (he) spoke to me.”
“I did not like the way he treated me.”
The officer took her fears seriously and committed to helping her by issuing a no-trespass order that barred the man from the campus. However, the man chose to follow his own rules.
The Stalking Heats Up
About a week later, the man was back on his ex’s campus, visiting her at her new place of employment. She reported that her “heart just dropped” when she saw him there on her first day of work. In response, she asked him to leave, at which point he gave her a hurt look but remained in the restaurant.
The young woman’s coworkers let her know that he’d also been there the day before. When the college student’s manager refused to kick him out, she quit the job and returned to her old waitressing position near her mother’s place, about 30 minutes away.
The Stalker Returns
About a week later, the college girl’s ex showed up at her dorm when she was there all alone, and she was so terrified that she hid in her roommate’s closet. The man was outside her front telling her that he knew she was inside when she called 911 and whispered her fears into the phone.
In the end, he left flowers and a long letter outside her door and was arrested for trespassing just minutes later – after changing into running clothes. The man quickly posted bond and created a new email account to bypass the blocks his ex had put on his phone number, email address, and social media accounts.
The officer handling the case shared with news outlets that when an arrest doesn’t slow down stalker behavior, it is a sign that the problem is serious. The officer proceeded to help the college student obtain an emergency protective order against her ex; however, continued stalking behavior led to the stalker’s third arrest in fourteen days.
The officer in charge let the man know that if he continued to communicate with his ex, every email, text, and call would lead to another arrest. Nevertheless, the stalker posted bond again just two days later. In the meantime, the man’s friends were backing him up – encouraging the college student to drop the charges against him.
Heading to a College Hangout
Before breaking up with the man, the college student had mentioned a college hangout to him, and that became his next destination. It was here that he met the murder victim who’d come in looking for a job. She ended up speaking with him and the bartender. Just 45 minutes later, the young woman tweeted, “I’m glad I decided to get off Tinder and walked to a bar.”
The young woman left the bar at about 9:00 PM with the man and the bartender, but only she and the man ended up at a nearby party. By 9:45 PM, it was raining, and they both headed out again. She was found dead the next day, and he was ultimately sentenced to life in prison.
Reach Out to an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Stalking charges are serious, but Brett Pritchard is a savvy Killeen criminal defense attorney who is well-prepared and well-positioned to protect your legal rights and build your strongest defense – in pursuit of a favorable case resolution. To learn more about what we can do to help you, please don’t put off contacting us online or calling us at (254) 781-4222 today.