It Is Now Easier For Texas to Charge You With Stalking

The Bureau of Justice Statistics says that more than 3.4 million people are stalked annually. Last year, the State of Texas decided to crack down on stalking crimes by broadening its stalking law and making it easier for courts to enhance the sentence for repeat offenders.

Under Texas' previous stalking statute, only the person being stalked, their family and those in their household enjoyed legal protection. The new law covers those in a dating relationship with the person being harassed. Now, current boyfriends and girlfriends are protected, as they often become targets of threatening conduct in stalking cases.

The new law also broadens the definition of stalking. Both the old and new statute criminalize threatening behavior occurring "on more than one occasion and pursuant to the same scheme or course of conduct that is directed specifically at another person." But the new statute includes a subsection that says "different types of conduct" can be considered part of "the same scheme or course of conduct."

Where previously the same type of conduct had to be repeated to qualify as stalking (such as the repeated following of a person), this change makes it easier for the State to charge someone with stalking. For example, one threatening email and a bouquet of flowers that the alleged victim perceives as a threat could be used to charge stalking so long as the State can claim they are part of "the same scheme or course of conduct."

Ultimately, this means that the State can charge more people with stalking with less evidence than they needed before. It also means that prosecutors can present much more evidence in court to prove their cases.

Increased Penalties

The crime of stalking under Texas' Penal Code is a third-degree felony unless "the actor has previously been convicted under this section," making it a second-degree felony. That increases the maximum potential prison term for a conviction from 10 years to 20.

The recent change to the statute expanded the prior stalking conviction enhancement to include not just those committed under Texas law, but also stalking convictions under any of the following:

  • The laws of another state
  • The laws of a federally recognized Indian tribe
  • The laws of a territory of the United States
  • Federal law

The only requirement is that the elements of any "foreign conviction" match the elements of the Texas statute. However, because Texas' stalking definition has been expanded, it is now easier for the State to use out of state convictions to ratchet up the charge and the penalties.

The potential consequences for a stalking conviction are severe and the State of Texas has just made it easier to send you to prison for it. If you or a loved one has been charged with a stalking offense, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your situation and your options.