No one means anything they say online, right? While you may assume that anything heated you say online will be tossed aside as an “online rant,” that's not always the case. And if you direct your online rant at a family member or someone you're dating, you could find yourself facing allegations of domestic violence. Under Texas law, domestic violence goes beyond hitting, kicking, or other acts of physical violence. It also includes actions like stalking, harassment, threats, and emotional abuse. But can you go to jail for things you write on the internet? Is it domestic violence?
The Texas Family Violence Statute
Whether your actions fall under the Texas family violence statute will depend on your relationship with the alleged victim and your actions against them. Illegal acts against someone who is a household, family member, or dating partner may qualify as domestic violence. See Tex. Fam. Code § 71.004(2017).
Many people assume that family or domestic violence charges are limited to assault or physical violence against someone in your family or someone you're dating. But Texas law doesn't require physical contact for domestic violence charges. Rather, “a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault” is considered family or dating violence. Texas law also includes “intentionally or knowingly threaten[ing] another with imminent bodily injury, including the person's spouse,” in its definition of assault. See Tex. Penal Code § 22.01(a)(2) (2021). Examples of threats that can be illegal include:
- Threatening someone via social media or messaging,
- Threatening specific violence online or by phone,
- Threats to hit someone, or
- Threats to kill someone,
A threat against a family member can also be simple domestic assault, even if it happens online, which is a Class C Misdemeanor. But whether a violation of the law qualifies as “domestic violence” may be irrelevant in some cases. Stalking and online harassment are still illegal in Texas, whether directed at a family member or intimate partner or not.
Stalking and Online Threats
- Threatening to hurt someone via text,
- Harassing someone via Facebook Messenger,
- Writing false claims about someone on Instagram,
- Encouraging friends to harass someone on Snapchat, or
- Threatening to harm someone in a post on Twitter.
Under Texas law, cyberstalking ranges from a Class B Misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. If convicted, you could face up to ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Hire an Expert in Texas Criminal Defense Law
If you're facing domestic violence charges in Texas for something you wrote or sent online, you will need help. Don't assume this is something that will just go away. You need someone protecting your rights in the criminal justice system and vigorously defending you. Hire an expert in Texas criminal defense who is experienced in handling domestic violence cases right away. Attorney Doug Murphy is an expert in both Criminal Defense and DWI Defense in Texas, and he's one of only two attorneys who is Board Certified in both these specialties.
Doug is also well-regarded by his peers in the Texas legal community. U.S. News & World Report's Best Lawyers in America recently named Doug a 2023 “Lawyer of the Year” for DWI defense in Houston. Doug earned this award for his hard work and experience in the courtroom and the Houston community. Doug and his skilled team at the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. have been helping Texans like you for years. Find out what they can do for you too. Call the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C., at 713-229-8333 or contact them online to schedule your consultation.