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Texas Establishes New Criminal Offense for Sending Unsolicited Sexual Photos to Others

By Peek & Toland on August 20, 2019

In June 2019, Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that criminalizes the sending of unsolicited pictures of “intimate parts” to others. The bill covers messages sent via texting, online dating applications, or through messaging platforms on social media.

A Texas legislator proposed the bill after the founder of the Austin-based dating app, Bumble, approached him about the lewd pictures that some users were sending through the app. Bumble is a women-focused app that permits only women to message men first, not the other way around. Bumble already bans shirtless selfies, nudity, drugs, and guns in the pictures that users can post online. While Bumble has banned and blocked any users reported to send unsolicited pictures of this sort, the problem has continued to increase. Bumble says ongoing problems with aggressive and unsolicited online communications through its app.

The new offense is a Class C misdemeanor, whose maximum sentence is a $500 fine. While law enforcement authorities may have difficulty enforcing the law, supporters are hoping that the law will make individuals think twice before sending unsolicited pictures. Now, if the recipient chooses, he or she could report the sender of the image to the police.

Texas Establishes New Criminal Offense for Sending Unsolicited Sexual Photos to Others

However, tracking pictures of genitalia sent from an anonymous email or Twitter account could be next to impossible. Furthermore, municipal courts and justice of the peace courts that typically prosecute Class C misdemeanors, like some traffic citations, are unlikely to have the resources. Prosecutors also are unlikely to prioritize these cases.

Defenses that individuals might raise are claims that someone else used their phone to send the picture, or that they or someone else sent it by accident. Determining whether someone negligently, accidentally, or recklessly sent a picture for their phone would be challenging, at best.

When you are facing any criminal charges in the state of Texas, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent your interests from the very beginning of your case. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and set up an appointment to speak with our legal team.

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How Social Media has Changed the Way Crimes are Committed

By Peek & Toland on December 22, 2016

The massive growth in social media as a mainstream means of communications and sharing of material has dramatically changed the way crimes can be committed.

The rapid development of smart phones means material such as graphics and pictures can be shared in a matter of seconds. It also presents a challenge for law enforcement agencies to police this new media landscape.

For instance, a story in the Washington Post in February revealed how even sending a threatening emoji can constitute a criminal offense. A 12-year-old from Fairfax in Virginia was charged with threatening her school after police said she posted a message on Instagram. Reports stated it contained images of a gun, a bomb and a knife.

social media changes the way crimes are committed

Part of the message read “meet me in the library Tuesday.”

It wasn’t the first time an emoji has been considered as a threat. A jury tackled the question in New York. It was asked to decide whether an emoji with the face of a police officer and a gun represented a threat to police officers.

In Michigan, a judge was asked to interpret the meaning of a tongue sticking out. The cases raise important First Amendment questions.

The challenge for police and prosecutors is to draw a line between dark humor and threats. It’s a fine line between free expression and intimidation.

Social Media and Cyber Bullying

Texas, like other states, has had to catch up with digital advances in recent years by enacting cyber bullying statutes.

In our state, “cyberbullying” is defined using any electronic communication device to take part in bullying or intimidation. It doesn’t need to be on social media. It can be via a text message or email.

There is also a crime of harassment that can be committed by sending obscene material, or making threats or false reports.

You can commit the crime of online impersonation by creating a page on a website. You can also be charged with sending messages while pretending to be someone else. It has to be done with the aim of harming, defrauding, or intimidating to be charged.

Online impersonation can be either a felony or misdemeanor depending on the circumstances under the Texas Penal Code § 33.07.

Criminals Broadcast Offenses on Social Media

Ray Surette, a Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Central Florida, recently wrote about how social media is changing the way crimes are committed and the way the police respond.

In his article in LSE, he wrote about how people who made bomb threats in past years did it secretly. Now they are more likely to broadcast their threats on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. He noted a move toward “performance crimes” stating:

“It is better to get your performance out there and be known than to be unknown in a celebrity culture, even if criminality is required.”

Surette noted an increase in invasive law enforcement techniques to fight these crimes with police increasingly turning to body and car cameras and community surveillance camera systems.

At Peek & Toland , we constantly question police methods of evidence gathering. In Texas, a cell phone is not like a pair of shoes. It’s more akin to a personal computer and can’t be searched at will.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in State v. Granville that the contents of an inmate’s cell phone were protected, even when he was locked up. Police need a warrant to obtain the contents of your phone.

Threats on social media can range from vaguely threatening statements, as seen during the recent panic about clowns, to terrorist threats that could land you in jail for more than a decade.

If you have been charged with a crime on social media, call an experienced Austin criminal defense lawyer. Call us at Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445.

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What is the Crime of Conspiracy Under Texas Law?

By Peek & Toland on September 7, 2016

Conspiracy is one of the more complicated crimes in Texas and often those who have been arrested and charged are left wondering what they have been accused of doing.

The crime involves two or more individuals who take part in a concerted criminal activity which we set out in more detail here.

The crime of consipracy is complex

The Offense falls under 15.02 of the Texas Penal Code.

You can be convicted of conspiracy if you:

1 – Agree with another person that you will engage in criminal conduct;

2 – You perform an “overt act” to further that agreement. An agreement can be inferred from the acts of the parties.

Flimsy Defenses To Conspiracy

The statute says it’s no defense if.

1 – One of more of the alleged conspirators does not commit the act;

2 – One of more of the co-conspirators is acquitted, as long as two or more have not been;

3 – One or more of the co-conspirators was not convicted or prosecuted, was convicted of a different crime or is immune from prosecution.

4 – The person who was supposed to commit the crime was legally incapable of doing so.

5 – The offense was committed.

Under Texas law, a conspiracy offense is “one category lower than the most serious felony that is the object of the conspiracy.”

In other words, the penalty for a conspiracy crime depends on the underlying crime that was committed or was being planned.

Sentences for conspiracy crimes are higher if they are dealt with in the federal courts. Typically, federal drug offenses entail prison terms up to five years and fines up to $250,000.

Offenses of conspiracy to defraud the United States are set out under 18 U.S.C. § 371.

It is sufficient for the federal government to prove that the accused knew the statements were false or fraudulent when made. The government does not have to prove that statements ultimately led to any actual loss to the government of any property or funds.

These crimes can involve many shades of gray. If you are accused of a robbery or a murder, it’s a black and white crime and the prosecution will attempt to prove you committed it. However, an agreement to commit a crime may not be overt but inferred. A nuance can be the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.

For this reason, it’s very important to hire an experienced Austin conspiracy defense lawyer. We will find out if the prosecution has overlooked or wants to conceal an important fact. Call us today for a consultation at <(512) 474-4445.

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