People often imagine stalking as being a hooded and shadowy someone following them home. In reality, stalking can take many forms. Sometimes, people don’t realize that what they are doing can be construed as stalking. Going to someone’s house to talk to them, or calling them over and over on the phone can turn into stalking charges, even when the person doing the action does not mean to stalk the other person. If the actor has been accused of domestic violence or has a PFA order against them, the situation can become much worse.What Does Pennsylvania Law Say About Stalking?
Definitions for stalking can be found in Section 2709.1 of Statute 18 of the Criminal Code. The following actions are considered to be stalking:
- Repeatedly committing acts against or to another person, or following a course of conduct, including following someone when not authorized to do so, in circumstances that either show intent to do bodily harm or make the victim think they are going to suffer bodily harm.
- Repeatedly communicating with another person, or following a course of conduct which shows an intent to communicate with another person that causes a reasonable fear of bodily injury to the victim or causes them severe emotional distress.
A defendant’s criminal history plays a large part in determining the level of the stalking charges he or she faces. Most of the time, stalking is charged as a first-degree misdemeanor. If, however, the charge is not the first for the defendant, it becomes a class three felony, if one of the following is true:
- The defendant has violated a protection from abuse order (PFA)
- The defendant has a conviction for a violent crime that involved the same person as the current stalking charge, or someone from that member’s family or household.
Punishment for a first-degree misdemeanor includes fines of up to $10,000 and jail sentences of up to 5 years. A third-degree felony carries fines of up to $15,000 and jail sentences of up to 7 years.
In addition to criminal consequences, stalking charges will have negative effects in regards to family law disputes, like divorce settlements and custody battles.Stalking Examples
Often, charges for stalking come about as misunderstandings between two people. The following are situations where stalking charges can result:
- Making threatening or lewd comments or interactions at a person, over and over again: This can be anything from repeated sexual innuendo aimed at a person to sending messages of a lewd nature to a person, over and over.
- Making someone fear for their safety on a repeated basis: Unexpectedly showing up, making threats toward a person, or making someone fear for their safety, and doing it over and over again, can lead to stalking charges.
- Contacting someone repeatedly: Calling or otherwise contacting someone who does not respond, many times in a row and especially when that person does not want to talk to you, can result in stalking charges. Includes phone calls, text messages, in person, and any other method, verbal or non-verbal.
- Showing up over and over at someone’s private home: Repeatedly showing up unannounced at someone’s house or apartment can result in stalking charges, especially if that person doesn’t want you there or you make them feel threatened by your presence.
- Following someone: Physically following someone around when you don’t have either legal authority to do so or the person’s permission to do so, can result in stalking charges.
Often, the victim's point of view is the one that leads to charges being pursued against the defendant. The accused may not have intended to harm the other person or make them afraid, but many times, the police will believe the victim first.Defending Against Stalking Charges
Often, a person facing stalking charges is in a difficult situation. They require a strong defense, because the case frequently comes down to the victim’s word against the defendant’s. This makes these charges difficult to defend in court.
Much of the time, for stalking charges to stick, a “course of conduct” must have been exhibited by the defendant. This means that he or she has displayed “A pattern of actions composed of more than one act over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of conduct.”
Charges or actions performed in other jurisdictions than the one in which the defendant is being charged are used to help prove a “course of conduct” in the courtroom. After this is established, the evidence is examined, and a determination made as to guilt or innocence. Sometimes the prosecutor will also try to prove that the defendant intended to cause distress.
Stalking charges can wreak havoc on a person’s life. They may also be termed domestic violence. Repeated charges make the already-harsh punishments much worse. If you or a loved one have been charged with stalking, you need a criminal defense attorney with experience in domestic violence charges and the determination to win. Contact Logue Law today at 1-844-PITT-DUI or 412-389-0805. Initial consultations are always free. We serve Pittsburgh, PA, West Virginia, and Ohio. We may be contacted online here.