Why TX Court of Appeals Ruled Harassment Statute as Unconstitutional

Dallas sex crime lawyer explains the Appeals court decision.

Harassment in a term that’s used to describe actions that are intended to humiliate, embarrass or demean a person. However, the term is also one that contains a lot of gray areas in its definition – especially in the digital age we live in. Texas has a specific statute on its books that prohibits electronic harassment. Recently, the Texas Court of Appeals held that the state’s Electronic Harassment Statute is unconstitutional. Here, we take a closer look at their decision.

The State of Texas and the Electronic Harassment Statute

The Texas Electronic Harassment Statute was intended to protect individuals from acts of online, or other forms of digital harassment. The reason why harassment has been historically difficult to establish is because what constitutes harassment is sometimes open to interpretation. In broad terms, you can say that harassment is any demeaning action taken against another person, that falls outside of the norm of social and moral reasonableness.

There are different forms of harassment. For instance, persistent and repetitive harassment is defined as bullying, and harassment that involves unwanted sexual advances, is considered sexual harassment and is rampant in the work place throughout certain industries. A relatively new type of harassment is electronic, and this refers to demeaning or humiliating actions taken against another person through electronic means – such as humiliating someone on social media or sharing private photos with an online audience.

The Texas Electronic Harassment Statute states that it is an illegal offense if a person acts with the intent to harass, abuse, embarrass, torment, annoy, or alarm another person through electronic means. This may include sending repeated electronic communications with the intent to harass or offend another individual. The term “electronic communication” is broader than one might realize, and covers any writing, sound, data, images, signs, or other communications through wire, radio, instant message, electromagnetic, photoelectronic, network communications, and other similar electronic means.

The premise seems simple enough, and on the surface appears that the statute could be beneficial in protecting victims of cyberbullying, among other acts of harassment. However, recently the Texas Appellate Court ruled that the statute was unconstitutional based on the elements of vagueness contained within.

Why Is an Anti-Harassment Statute Unconstitutional?

What was the reasoning behind the state’s appellate court ruling the anti-harassment statute as unconstitutional? According to the court, the ruling was based on the fact that criminalizing behaviors that are viewed as annoying, with the absence of any real objective standard of what constitutes annoying, has been established as being unconstitutionally vague.

It’s this vagueness that creates a flaw in so many harassment suits, and the wording of the statute does little to resolve the issue that the definition of electronic harassment remains subjective.

The statue also lacked a reasonable person standard. What this means is that the appellate court viewed the statute as failing to provide sufficient structure to define the sensitivities of a reasonable person or add clarity to what “reasonably likely” means in regards to the statute. There is simply too much of the statute’s wording that can be misinterpreted or manipulated, and enough failures in the statute to deem it as being unconstitutional.

For example, a string of late-night correspondences from an intoxicated ex may be annoying, but to what extent do these communication affect the “victim’s” rights? Is a situation like this on equal grounds as a coworker who repeated sends inappropriate innuendos to an uninterested target in the workplace, and as a result creates a hostile work environment for the victim? Until we more clearly define what harassment is, or create wording that defines reasonable standards, any future attempts at electronic harassment statutes are likely to come up against similar challenges.

Learn More By Speaking with a Criminal Defense Attorney who specializes in sexual assault law in Texas.

If you’ve been involved in a harassment case, this recent ruling by the Texas Court of Appeals may leave you with questions about how the decision affects your case. Rather than make assumptions, your best move is to reach out and contact a criminal defense attorney who deals in sex crimes in Dallas.

The laws surrounding harassment aren’t black and white. Speaking with an experienced criminal defense attorney can assist in clarifying the laws and helping you understand the charges you’re facing. When it’s your future online, don’t take chances. Reach out and seek legal guidance you need from a Dallas sexual assault lawyer in Texas.

If you have a case in Texas call Dallas Sex Crime Lawyers.

Dallas Sex Criminal Defense Lawyers

Dallas Sex Crime Lawyer Broden & Mickelsen, LLP
2600 State St Dallas,
Texas 75204
(214) 720-9552

Mick Mickelsen is a nationally recognized criminal trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience defending people charged with white-collar crimes, drug offenses, sex crimes, murder, and other serious state and federal offenses.