Legal Penalties for Annoying Text Messages
Did you know that it’s illegal to “blow up” someone’s phone with an annoying flood of text messages? In Texas, the crime of harassment can be committed by spamming someone with repeated messages with the intent of making them feel harassed, annoyed, alarmed, abused, tormented, embarrassed, or offended.Texas Penal Code Section 42.07(a)(7)
This page contains information for the recipients of unwanted messages.
Click here if you have been accused of SENDING unwanted messages.
Harassment is usually a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in the county jail and a fine up to $2,000. Those amounts can be doubled when spam suggesting self-harm is directed at a child or the sender has been previously convicted of harassment.
Even if annoying messages are not repeatedly spammed they can still result in a harassment charge if they:
- Threaten to physically injure the message recipient.
- Threaten to commit a felony against the message recipient, their family, or their property.
- Falsely report that someone has suffered a serious injury or death.
- Contain a patently offensive description of an excretory function or an obscene solicitation of sexual contact. and were sent by the person who initiated the communication.
Most people are probably unaware that committing the offense of harassment on more than one occasion can be prosecuted as stalking. Stalking is a third-degree felony, punishable by two to ten years in prison!
When the sender is prohibited from communicating with the recipient by either a protective order or by a condition of a jail-release bond, the sender could be charged with the offense of violation of bond or protective order.
The Sender’s Intent
In a harassment case, whether or not a message recipient feels annoyed or offended isn’t legally significant. The question is whether it was the sender’s intent to create that feeling. In other words, the crime of harassment occurs in the mind of the speaker, not in the ear of the listener.
The same is true for stalking when it is based on multiple occasions of harassment. However, there are other ways of committing stalking that require merely that the sender knew his messages would be offensive to any reasonable person, regardless of intent.
Please be aware that if both you and the person sending the annoying text messages are parents of the same child, the other parent does have a legal right to communicate with you in a reasonable manner regarding the child. Consult a family law attorney for advice on situations involving the challenges of co-parenting.
Closing Intent Loopholes
Avoid the temptation to respond in anger. Politely notifying the sender that no further communication is welcome may reduce the freedom of speech defenses available to the other person if they continue.
To remove any doubt as to the sender’s intent, let them know that receiving ANY messages from them makes you feel harassed, annoyed, alarmed, abused, tormented, embarrassed, or offended, regardless of the content of the message. You might also let them know that you are considering reporting the harassing messages to law enforcement. Finally, you might suggest they read section 42.07 of the Texas Penal Code.
Consequences of Reporting
If you do choose to contact law enforcement to report annoying messages, please be aware that, despite what you may have seen on TV, “dropping the charges” won’t automatically make the case go away if you change your mind later. Once a criminal case is filed, only the prosecutor can dismiss it.
You should also be aware that there is no “self-defense” justification that allows sending nasty replies to someone who sent nasty messages to you first. If this happened, a police officer could arrest you both, and downplaying your role in the situation could make things worse because it is a crime to knowingly mislead an officer who is conducting a criminal investigation.False Report to Peace Officer section 37.08 Texas Penal Code.
Finally, keep in mind that any person facing criminal charges has a constitutional right to a public jury trial. If you get law enforcement involved, you should be prepared to testify in open court about the private details of your relationship and the context of the text messages in question.
Stalking Protective Orders
If you receive text messaging that rise to the level of stalking, you have the option of seeking a stalking protective order which would cause the sender to be brought before a judge and may result in the sender being ordered to never contact you again, ever, for the rest of their life.
To file an application for a protective order, you could hire a private attorney, but the county prosecutor’s office may be willing to pursue the order at no cost to you. A prosecutor might also file felony criminal charges against the alleged stalker, so hiring a private attorney may be worth the added expense if you want to minimize the chance of becoming a witness in a criminal case.
Disobeying a stalking protective order is a crime. If an order was issued for your protection, and you later change your mind, you do not have the authority to grant permission to violate the protective order. Instead, you will need to file a motion asking the court to modify or rescind the order.See chapter 87 of the Texas Family Code for modifications and to remove the order see article 7A.07 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, after January 1, 2021, use article 7B.007 instead.
Note: A stalking protective order is NOT one of the types of court orders that allows the protected party to break a lease.
What Laws Apply to Annoying Text Messages?
Harassment is defined in Section 42.07 of the Texas Penal Code.
Stalking is defined in Section 42.072 of the Texas Penal Code.
A lifetime protective order based on stalking is described in Chapter 7A of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. These laws have recently been re-written under Chapter 7B, which takes effect on January 1, 2021.
No-Contact and Keep-Away orders as a condition of probation in stalking cases are issued in compliance with Article 42A.505 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Note: This part of the code was previously under Article 42.12 Sec. 11(L)(1) until 2017.
Convicted felons and people under a stalking protective order are prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition by US Code Title 18 Section 922(g).
|↑1||Texas Penal Code Section 42.07(a)(7)|
|↑2||False Report to Peace Officer section 37.08 Texas Penal Code.|
|↑3||See chapter 87 of the Texas Family Code for modifications and to remove the order see article 7A.07 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, after January 1, 2021, use article 7B.007 instead.|