Online Impersonation Laws in Texas
Posted in Criminal defense on March 15, 2018
Texas takes online impersonation seriously. No matter the circumstances of your offense, arrest, and charge, talk to an attorney about your case. Getting a misdemeanor for online impersonation can stay on your record, resulting in jail time and haunting you down the road. A felony has even deeper implications, making it difficult to find jobs and housing.
In Texas, a law from 2009 makes it against the law to impersonate someone else online. Texas Penal Code Section 33.07 states that if a person “uses the name or persona of another person” without that person’s consent and with the intent to harm, threaten, defraud, or intimidate the person, he or she has committed a crime. Not many people know of this law or are aware when they break it – until police charge them with a crime. Use this overview of all the nuances of the state online impersonation law to know your rights and boundaries.
What Counts as Online Impersonation?
Under the law, there are many things that could constitute “online impersonation” and get the offender into legal trouble. Much slighter actions than the obvious identity theft could break Texas’ online impersonation law. This includes logging into an ex-spouse’s account and posting information or sending messages. Most states classify “online impersonation” as stalking or cyberstalking. The following is a list of actions the penal code prohibits if the offender does not have the other person’s consent and his or her intentions are to harm or defraud:
- Creating a social media profile or website with the identity of the other person.
- Posting messages through a commercial social networking site or other website (other than through an electronic mail program or online message board).
- Sending an e-mail, IM, text message, or similar communication that references an “item of identifying information” belonging to someone else, including a name or domain address, with the intent to cause the recipient to believe the other person transmitted the message.
If guilty of one of the first two actions, the offender has committed a third-degree felony in Texas. Committing the third type listed is a Class A misdemeanor. Both types of crimes could result in jail time and/or hefty fines for convicted perpetrators. Many online impersonation cases involve domestic disputes in which one party impersonates the other with the intent of damaging the latter’s reputation. However, some cases involve the online impersonation of a stranger, celebrity, or acquaintance. The language of this law is quite vague, leaving it widely open to interpretation. This can be bad news for alleged offenders and make cases more difficult to defend.
How to Protect Your Rights as a Defendant
Keep these things in mind if it is possible you will be, or already have been, arrested for online impersonation. First, there have already been challenges against the statute for infringing upon a person’s right to free speech in the First Amendment. This could work in your favor if your alleged crime resembles a simple act of free speech instead of online stalking or identity theft. Your lawyer can help you establish a suitable defense
Second, if you are an employee who impersonated someone online out of your job-related duties, this is an allowable defense. Penal Code 33.07 states it’s a defense if the offender is an employee acting for the employer of a social media site, Internet service provider, telecommunications provider, video service provider, cable service provider, or interactive computer service. Third – and most importantly – you should hire a lawyer if you’re facing this type of charge.
The Houston criminal defense attorneys at Law Office of David A. Breston can help you come up with a solid criminal defense attorney or take a plea deal to minimize the penalties against you.