What Is Considered “Harassment” in Violation of a Galveston Domestic Abuse Protection Order?

By February 22, 2018Domestic Violence

Domestic abuse allegations frequently arise during contested divorce cases in Galveston County. A judge may issue a protective order in favor of one spouse. Such an order can restrict the alleged abuser in a number of ways, such as how and when they may contact the complaining spouse.

Violating a domestic abuse protection order is a serious offense. Galveston prosecutors can–and will–charge the alleged abuser with a Class A misdemeanor. This is punishable by up to a year in jail, although in many cases a court may agree to sentence the defendant to a term of probation instead.

Court Rejects Appeal of Criminal Conviction for Violating Protective Order

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently addressed a constitutional challenge to part of the Texas Penal Code which authorizes jail time for violating domestic abuse protection orders. The defendant in this case argued the original order unfairly restricted his “free speech” rights and was too vague to allow him to understand what conduct was prohibited. The Court rejected both arguments.

This case began about six years ago. The defendant was then charged with domestic abuse in connection with an assault against his then-wife. At that time, the wife indicated she wanted a divorce, and the couple separated.

A few weeks later a judge issued a domestic abuse protection order against the defendant. Among other terms, the judge prohibited the defendant from “communicating directly” with his estranged spouse “in a threatening or harassing manner.” This matches the language used in Section 25.07 of the Texas Penal Code, which defines the criminal offense of violating a protection order.

Note that the order did not prohibit all communication between the spouses, just that where the defendant acts in a threatening or harassing manner. Initially, the spouses continued to speak on household and childcare matters via text message. But the wife then demanded the defendant stop texting her and communicate only by email. The defendant ignored this request on several occasions and continued to send text messages and make phone calls.

Many of the defendant’s communications were designed to pressure his wife into reconciling. In one email he “claimed he was having an anxiety attack” because she left him. The defendant even asked members of his church to send his wife a message to “urge” her not to go through with the divorce.

Following the church email, the wife went to the police, who arrested the defendant for violating the protection order. A jury ultimately convicted the defendant of violation Section 25.07. The judge sentenced the defendant to two years probation in lieu of a one-year jail sentence.

As the Court of Criminal Appeals explained, there was nothing unconstitutional or vague about Section 25.07 as applied to the defendant’s case. The law “does not implicate any constitutionally protected speech,” since it is narrowly tailored to focus on specific individuals and conduct, i.e. individuals under a domestic abuse protective order due to prior acts or threats of violence. Nor is the order vague, as it only applied to communications made in a “harassing manner,” which the Court defined as mode or method of communication that would “persistently disturb, bother continually, or pester another person.”

Speak With a Galveston Domestic Abuse Attorney Today

If you are the subject of a domestic abuse protection order, you need to be extremely careful when contacting the person who made the complaint, even if you are still legally married to that person. Attempts to reconcile, even if you think they are innocent and made in good faith, may be perceived by the other person–and ultimately a jury–as harassment. And the last thing you want to end up with is a criminal record because you did not fully understand the law in this area.

In fact, if your spouse or partner is seeking a protection order against you, it is imperative you speak with a qualified Galveston domestic abuse attorney right away. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 843-9776 today if you need assistance.