In 2009, the Texas Legislature passed a new criminal offense for online harassment through impersonation under Texas Penal Code § 33.07. This criminal offense of online harassment through impersonation is often classified as a type of “cyberstalking” in other states.
Many of these cases involve former lovers or individuals in a dating relationship, although prosecutions involving the impersonation of a stranger, acquaintance, or neighbor is also possible.
This law makes it a felony to use the name or persona of another person to create a web page or post on a social networking site if the action is taken to hard, threaten, defraud or intimidate the other person. The statute has been widely criticized as poorly drafted, vague and overly broad. Many can imagine relatively innocuous conduct that could fall within the prohibitions of the statute. Few challenges have been brought against that statute alleging that it runs afoul of the First Amendment’s Right to Free Speech.
If you have been charged with this felony domestic violence offense for impersonating another person online in the greater Houston or The Woodlands area, then contact experienced criminal defense attorney Matt Horak. Call our office to discuss the ways that we can help you mount an aggressive defense to these serious charges.
Texas Penal Code § 33.07
Under Texas Penal Code § 33.07(a), a person is prohibited from using the name or persona of another person, without obtaining the other person’s consent and with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten any person, in order to:
- create a web page on a commercial social networking site or another Internet website; or
- post or send one or more messages on or through a commercial social networking site or other Internet website, other than on or through an electronic mail program or message board program.
A violation of Texas Penal Code § 33.07(a) is a felony of the third degree.
Under Texas Penal Code § 33.07(b), a person is prohibited from sending an electronic mail, instant message, text message, or similar communication that references a name, domain address, phone number, or another item of identifying information belonging to any person:
- without obtaining the other person’s consent;
- with the intent to cause a recipient of the communication to reasonably believe that the other person authorized or transmitted the communication; and
- with the intent to harm or defraud any person.
The penalties for online harassment through impersonation under Texas Penal Code § 33.07(b) is generally charged as a Class A misdemeanor. The crime is classified as a felony of the third degree if the defendant acts with the intent to solicit a response by emergency personnel.
Under Texas Penal Code § 33.07(f), certain terms are defined for purposes of the online harassment or impersonation statute. The term “commercial social networking site” is defined to include “any business, organization, or other similar entity operating a website that permits persons to become registered users for the purpose of establishing personal relationships with other users through direct or real-time communication with other users or the creation of web pages or profiles available to the public or to other users. The term does not include an electronic mail program or a message board program.” The term “identifying information” is defined in Texas Penal Code Section 32.51.
Defense to Online Harassment / Impersonation
Under Texas Penal Code § 33.07(e) it is a defense to prosecution if the person is an employee acting for the employer of any of the following entities:
- a commercial social networking site;
- an Internet service provider;
- an interactive computer service, as defined by 47 U.S.C. Section 230;
- a telecommunications provider, as defined by Section 51.002, Utilities Code; or
- a video service provider or cable service provider, as defined by Section 66.002, Utilities Code.
Finding an Attorney for Online Impersonation / Harassment
If you charged with online harassment or impersonation in Houston or The Woodlands, in Harris County or Montgomery County, Texas, then contact experienced Houston criminal defense lawyer Matt Horak. This criminal offense is often classified as stalking or cyberstalking in other states.