Recently, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas at Dallas issued an important decision holding the state’s stalking statute unconstitutional. While lawmakers are responsible for writing and passing laws, courts must interpret the laws as they are written. However, courts are also the final arbiter in determining whether a law is constitutional. While most laws pass constitutional muster, some do not, as evidenced by the court’s recent decision.
The Facts of the Case
The defendant in the case was arrested and charged with felony stalking for conduct taking place between January 1, 2007, and April 24, 2018. More specifically, the complaint alleged that the defendant engaged in conduct that caused the complaining witness “to feel harassed, annoyed, alarmed, abused, tormented, embarrassed, or offended” and “would cause a reasonable person to feel harassed, annoyed, alarmed, abused, tormented, embarrassed, or offended.” Evidently, the defendant posted comments on social media and made other public statements that the complaining witness considered threatening.
At the time, the Texas stalking statute made it a crime to commit more than one act of “electronic-communications harassment” under § 42.07. That statute provides that a person repeatedly sends “electronic communications in a manner reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend another.” Thus, the stalking statute directly references the harassment statute, making it a stalking offense to engage in a continued course of harassment.