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Can Non-Verbal “Communication” Violate a Domestic Violence Restraining Order?

Domestic violence allegations in the Galveston area frequently lead one party to seek a protective order against the other. In some cases the parties may agree to entry of a protective order in order to deescalate a tense situation–such as the breakup of a marriage–and give both sides some breathing room. Keep in mind, however, if you agree to a protective order as the subject, you may be charged with a criminal offense if you violate any of the conditions in the order.

Pasadena Man Receives Year in Jail After He’s Seen at Estranged Wife’s Home

Under Section 25.07 of the Texas Penal Code, the subject of a protective order commits a Class A misdemeanor if he “communicates … directly with a protected individual … in a threatening or harassing manner.” The use of the term “communicates” in this context is not limited to verbal threats or statements. A person may be found guilty of violating a domestic violence protective order if he engages in any action, verbal or nonverbal, that is perceived as threatening by the protected individual.

For example the Texas 1st District Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over domestic violence cases from Galveston County and the greater Houston area, recently upheld the conviction of a man who was seen standing outside his estranged wife’s apartment building in Pasadena. In April 2016, the defendant and his wife agreed to the entry of a protective order after she accused him of sexual assault. Among other terms, the order prohibited the defendant from “going within 200 feet” of his wife’s residence or communicating with her in a “threatening or harassing manner,” as defined by Section 25.07.

About two months after the order was issued, the wife called 911 after her neighbor informed her that the defendant was standing outside of her apartment building. The wife later testified she personally observed the defendant at her building a few minutes later. She said he left without saying anything directly to her, but she nevertheless said just seeing him made her “alarmed.”

A few minutes later a Pasadena police officer arrived at the scene. The wife gave the officer a description of the defendant. The officer said he then realized he saw the defendant walking away from the building as he was pulling in, and this was a distance less than 200 feet from the building.

The defendant was arrested and charged with violating the protective order. At trial, he denied he was present at the building on the day in question. But he acknowledged that if he were there in violation of the agreed protective order, it would “be sending a message that’s pretty threatening.” The jury found the defendant guilty and the judge sentenced him to the maximum sentence of one year in jail.

In affirming the conviction and sentence, the First District cited the defendant’s admission and the wife’s testimony that she was “alarmed” as sufficient evidence of the defendant’s intent to “communicate” a threatening message in violation of the protective order. The fact the parties never exchanged any words was irrelevant. A “reasonable jury could have found beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant was, in effect, using his presence to make a threat.

Contact a Galveston County Domestic Violence Lawyer Today

Galveston-area courts take domestic violence protective orders quite seriously, as the outcome of the above case illustrates. If you are under any kind of order you must obey its terms without question. And if you are accused of a violation, do not admit anything to the police. Instead, contact an experienced Galveston domestic violence defense attorney who can advise you on the appropriate steps to take next. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 280-0100 to speak with a member of our team today.