Stalking can come in many forms. Often, a person can unknowingly behave in such a way that he or she could be charged with stalking. Even if a person did not mean anything bad by trying repeatedly to contact someone, or by showing up at their house to talk to them, the person could be charged with stalking. If the person has a Protection From Abuse order filed against them, or is facing domestic violence charges, stalking charges make everything worse.Pennsylvania Law on Stalking
The crime of stalking has been committed when:
- A person commits acts aimed at another person, or engages in a course of behaviors aimed at another person under circumstance that show an intent to cause the other person significant emotional distress or in reasonable fear of bodily injury by following him or her without proper permission
- A person repeatedly communicates with another person in a way that shows or demonstrates that the person should have a reasonable fear of bodily injury, or that causes them significant emotional distress. Or, a person actually behaves in a way that causes someone else to have a reasonable fear of bodily injury or that causes significant emotional distress.
Most of the time, stalking is considered to be a first-degree misdemeanor. It becomes a third-degree felony when it is a repeat charge (second and subsequent offenses) if it happens under one of the following two circumstances:
- The person being charged has violated a PFA (aka a protective order)
- The person being charged has a previous conviction for a violent crime against a household or family member, or the same person he/she has been accused of stalking.
As a first-degree misdemeanor, a stalking conviction comes with fines of up to $10,000 and jail sentences of up to five years. As a third-degree felony, stalking convictions come with up to $15,000 in fines and up to seven years in jail.
Additional consequences to a stalking conviction are likely when the convicted stalker is involved in ongoing family law cases, such as custody battles or divorce proceedings.Examples of Stalking
Often, a stalking charge will come out of a misunderstanding that occurs between two people. The following are examples of situations that can end up with someone being charged with stalking:
- Contacting an individual over and over: Making repeated attempts to contact someone via text, phone call, in person, or any other verbal or non-verbal manner when they don’t respond, especially if that person does not want to speak to you, can result in stalking charges.
- Making lewd or threatening comments or gestures to someone again and again: Constantly making harassing, lewd, or otherwise threatening comments to someone can be considered stalking. This can mean repeatedly sending lewd messages to someone, or saying things to them full of sexual innuendo.
- Following someone: Actually following someone around from place to place, especially without their permission or without legal authority, can result in stalking charges.
- Showing up at someone’s house over and over: If you constantly show up at someone’s house, unannounced, it can be considered stalking, especially if that person feels threatened by your presence or does not want you at their private residence.
- Making someone repeatedly fear for their safety: Anything that makes a person fear for their safety, for example, repeatedly showing up when not expected or making threats against them, can result in stalking charges.
Often, a defendant may not have intended to harm anyone, but the point of view of the victim pushes charges forward. Police frequently believe the victim, even when the defendant may not have intended to cause harm or fear.Stalking Charges Defense
Charges of stalking require a strong defense, because those charges are often made in the midst of a difficult situation. Frequently, it’s the victim’s word against the defendant’s, and that’s hard to defend in court.
Stalking charges usually require that a person showed a “course of conduct,” which is described in the statute as “A pattern of actions composed of more than one act over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of conduct.”
If you have committed similar acts in other jurisdictions, those can be used to establish that course of conduct when you go to court. Once the court establishes this, it will decide if the evidence in your case demonstrates that you were guilty. Additionally, the prosecutor may try to prove that you intended to cause the alleged victim stress, as well.
If you have been charged with stalking, you need the immediate assistance of a criminal defense attorney with experience in stalking and domestic violence defenses to help you. The Logue Criminal Defense team has defended many domestic violence cases, often getting charges reduced or dismissed. Logue Law serves Pittsburgh, PA, West Virginia, and Ohio. Call us today for an initial consultation, free of charge, at 1-844-PITT-DUI or (412) 389-0805. Or, you may contact us online.
For more information:
Definitions and explanations of stalking can be found in the Pennsylvania Code, Statute 18 Section 2709.1.