UPDATED: April 16, 2012
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Stalking is a criminal offense that involves following, harassment, and intimidation of another person. Stalking can be committed by a group or individual. An act of stalking may involve the commission of an additional criminal offense such as identity theft, sexual assault, and vandalism. Stalking can be charged as a federal or state crime. The definitions for stalking differ between the federal government and states and between states.
Generally, the definition for stalking requires that an action involve knowing or willful behavior and a credible threat to another person. Cyberstalking is a type of stalking that involves the use of electronic communication, such as email or text messages. Aggravated stalking is a type of stalking that involves stalking coupled with a violation of an order not to have contact with the other person. Examples of such an order include a restraining order, a condition of probation or parole, and a good behavior bond.
Penalties for Stalking
Stalking can be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on what action the offender has taken against the victim. The typical penalties for stalking are incarceration and fines. A criminal judge may also impose an injunction prohibiting the offender from contacting the victim if such an injunction is not already in place. Many states have criminal codes that allow a prosecutor to charge an offender charged with stalking with a higher level of offense if they repeat the prohibited behavior. Usually the repetition must be committed against the same person, within a specified time period, and be accompanied by an act of violence. When stalking involves actions that threaten the general public as well as a specific target, the offender may be charged with additional crimes.
If you have been charged with stalking, you should talk to a criminal defense attorney about how to resolve your criminal case. There are a number of defenses to stalking. These defenses go to the wording of state or federal statutes. One common defense is lack of knowledge: the offender did not know the victim would be at a location at a given time. Another common defense is reasonableness: the victim did not act reasonably when developing a belief that they were placed in fear by an offender’s activities. A third, less common defense is that the offender’s activity is constitutionally protected. An example of such an activity is a political protest.
Stalking vs. Violating an Injunction
Stalking is often confused with violating an injunction. The two acts are not identical although they can involve a single event. To better understand the connection between the two acts, know that an injunction can be civil or criminal. An injunction can take various forms, such as a restraining order, protective order, condition of probation, or condition of pretrial release. When an offender violates an injunction, the court in which the injunction was issued will determine whether a violation occurred and the penalty for the violation. The court may also choose to charge the offender with contempt of court for violating the injunction. Contempt of court may be a civil or criminal charge.
A charge of stalking can affect employment, housing, the disposition of other civil and criminal cases, and child custody arrangements. If you are concerned that your actions might be considered stalking, ask yourself whether the person with whom you are trying to communicate has stated that they do not want to have contact with you. Then ask yourself whether your action could be interpreted as a threat. If the answer to both questions is yes, consider cutting off contact with the individual. If you are owed money or services by an individual and do not want to be accused of stalking, consider hiring an attorney or loan collector to settle your account.