Criminal trespassing: How Texas law defines it

Last Monday, a West Austin woman spoke with FOX 7 Austin about dealing with a Peeping Tom who wouldn’t leave her front porch. In light of this, we’re breaking down what you should do if you’re in a similar situation, and what Texas trespassing laws have to say.

Three weeks ago, Kimberley DeLeon was inside her home when a man showed up outside her door. "I really got freaked out," said DeLeon. "He was watching me through the window."

Through the door she told him to leave—meaning at that point he was illegally trespassing, according to Sam Bassett, a criminal defense attorney in Austin.

"Walking up the sidewalk to the front door of a house on the street, that's not necessarily criminal trespass. But once you have notice that your entry onto the property is forbidden, then you're required to leave or you commit the offense of criminal trespass," said Bassett.

Still, the man remained outside DeLeon’s door for half an hour. "He sat down on the steps, started shaking his head, pacing back and forth," said DeLeon.

DeLeon called 911, but when police arrived they told her they couldn’t make him leave, because at that point he was technically off her property—but still feet away from her home. She says the only reason police eventually removed him was because he consented to it.

"If he's standing on the border of the property and not actually committing criminal trespass when they observe him, then they can't do anything about it as long as he's in an area he's allowed to be in," said DeLeon.

However, Bassett says you do have some options if you’re dealing with someone like this.

"She could theoretically swear out an affidavit and then they could go use that to get a warrant for his arrest. But all of that takes time," said Bassett.

Bassett says having a doorbell camera like DeLeon can provide important audio and video evidence.

"The police and prosecutors typically like something that's a little more provable than she just says, ‘I told him to leave and he's sitting on my stoop.’ But if it's repeated instances or if you have very solid, independent proof of the notice, then they're going to arrest."

Bassett says Texans can also give notice automatically by putting up a "No Trespassing" sign, or give written notice to a specific neighbor you want to stay away. Homeowners are allowed to use force to get someone off their property once notice is given, but not deadly force. And, if it’s happening repeatedly, it may qualify as more than just trespassing.

"If it's a situation where somebody has got a vendetta against you and they're just trying to harass you, there are other statutes that can come into play. Harassment, repeated conduct with the intent to annoy, alarm or scare you can be considered a different offense called harassment," said Bassett.