June 20, 2024

Public servants in Texas cover a wide range of government professions. It includes every elected official, government employee, and law enforcer at all levels of the government—federal, state, and local.

Causing alarm, disruption, offense, or serious inconvenience to these public officials can constitute harassment. Penalties for this crime range between considerable prison time and a fine that can go up to $10,000.

If you’re accused of harassing a public servant in Texas, you must know the laws surrounding the offense. Let’s walk you through everything you need to know, from what harassment means to the potential penalties and what you should do from here.

Bunch Of Hands Pointing On A Drawing Of A Woman

What Constitutes Harassment? 

Harassment can mean many things and is often an element of various crimes. Generally, it means knowingly intimidating, disparaging, or threatening someone else, causing inconvenience, distress, anxiety, or fear.

What constitutes harassment can be visual, verbal, or written. It can include anything you do, say, or imply that is offensive to the other party, including the following:

  • Unsolicited lewd behavior toward another person
  • Unwanted physical contact (touching, handholding, etc.)
  • Communicating inappropriate or offensive messages
  • Direct threats of physical harm to the person, their family, or friends
  • Calling the person repeatedly to cause alarm, annoyance, or fear
  • Actions that deliberately embarrass, torment, abuse, or inconvenient someone

In Texas, harassment is considered a minor offense or misdemeanor. Often done through telecommunications, anyone knowingly lending devices to allow the offenses mentioned to happen is also liable for the crime committed.

Texas law also differentiates civil harassment that causes “bodily injury to a person based on their protected status.” Protected status refers to individuals with specific characteristics that make them vulnerable, such as age, gender, or disability.

Penalties for harassment can result in 180 to 365 days in prison, probation, plus a fine of up to $4,000. Moreover, repeatedly harassing someone for any reason or purpose is considered a felony in the State of Texas. That said, these legal consequences significantly change when the case involves harassment of government officials.

Woman Looking at A Persons Hand Which is on her shoulder

Texas Laws on Public Servant Harassment

Texas law identifies the dangers surrounding the nature of government work. Stipulated in the penal code section 22.11., Harassment by Persons in Certain Facilities;  Harassment of Public Servant, anyone who commits the following toward public servants on official duties may be liable for harassment:

  • Causing a person on official duties to come into contact with blood, vaginal fluid, seminal fluid, urine, feces, or saliva while detained in a correctional or detention facility.
  • Causing a person on or off official duties to come into contact with blood, vaginal fluid, seminal fluid, urine, feces, or saliva while committed in a civil commitment facility.

The actor accused of harassment should “know” they’re doing it on a public servant with an “intent” to assault or cause harm. If the public servant was in their uniform or wearing a badge signifying their position during the crime, the actor is presumed to “know.”

On the other hand, intent is proven through circumstantial evidence and the frequency of the criminal act. To this end, one-time, unintentional, or incidental behaviors causing contact with bodily fluids, inconvenience, or annoyance typically won’t count as harassment.

It’s worth noting that the law doesn’t only apply to human body fluids. The State of Texas also penalizes cases where the accused forced a public servant to come into contact with animal urine and feces, including those considered pets.

Person Publicly Speaking

Who Are Considered Public Servants?

Perhaps you’re wondering who these public servants mentioned in the law are. To give you an idea, here are some of the most common examples of professions that fit the bill:

  • Law enforcement and peace officers (i.e., police officers, sheriffs, detectives, etc.)
  • Juror or grand jurors
  • Prison or civil commitment facility guards and employees
  • Notary public and attorneys at law
  • Public office candidate
  • A person performing a governmental function
  • A person authorized to hear a case or controversy by law

In other words, anyone working for the government and its citizens. Firefighters, teachers, emergency services personnel, paramedics, or anyone authorized for an official duty also belong in this category.

What About Assault on a Public Servant or Official?

While commonly confused for one another, assault and harassment of a public official are two different charges. Nevertheless, both are considered serious crimes with severe penalties in the court of law.

The primary difference between harassment and assault is the degree of harm done to the victim. An assault charge constitutes anything deliberately done to cause bodily injury, including kicking, hitting, or using a deadly weapon.

Assaulting government officers is a third-degree felony in Texas. But if the crime involves a deadly weapon or has caused severe physical injuries, the court can move it up to a second-degree felony. The penalties can vary between 2 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Texas Penalties For Public Servant Harassment

Deliberately harassing public officials and servants incur grave legal consequences. Like assault, this crime is a third-degree felony, and the maximum possible fine is $10,000 with a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

There are cases where the court can sentence a person to life in prison for multiple counts of harassment or if it comes with other serious charges. One recent example happened in Lubbock, Texas, when a man was penalized 70 years jail time for spitting and assaulting a police officer.

The statute of limitation for a harassment charge is three years. That means a person can be prosecuted three years after the incident or crime happened.

Final Thoughts: Don’t Plea, Reach Out!

As you now know, harassment of a public servant in Texas can spell significant penalties. If you or any of your loved ones are currently facing this charge, you’ll need criminal defense attorneys with experience in legal representation. Reach out to Napier Law Firm and find experts who understand what it takes to defend you in court!