Harassment is a crime that involves the defendant engaging in a pattern of behavior that leads the alleged victim to believe they are in danger or emotional distress. This can include anything from mere communication to actual threats, to physical contact with a person. These circumstances are typically more complex than they seem, and the police report may not accurately show what really happened. Unfortunately, in court, defendants have a strong opposition lined up against them, and prosecutors may have already formed an opinion in their minds before the case even begins.
What is Harassment?
Harassment is defined under Pa. C.S.A. § 2709. There are two different crimes contained in this statute: harassment, and cyber harassment of a child.
Harassment is defined through certain acts. A person commits harassment when they have the intent to "harass, annoy or alarm" another person, and performs one of the following acts:
- strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects another person to physical contact, or attempts to do so, or threatens to do so
- follows the person in or about a public place or places
- engages in a course of conduct, or repeatedly commits acts which serve no legitimate purpose
- communicates to the other person any lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings or caricatures
- communicates repeatedly in an anonymous matter
- communicates repeatedly at extremely inconvenient hours
- communicates repeatedly in any other manner
Cyber Harassment of a Child
The statute for harassment also sets forth the crime of cyber harassment of a child. These crimes always have a child as a victim. This crime occurs when a person, with the intent to harass, annoy or alarm, uses electronic means, or social media to engage in the following acts:
- communicates a "seriously disparaging statement or opinion" about the child's physical characteristics, sexuality, sexual activity, or mental or physical health condition
- communicates a threat to inflict harm
What are the Penalties for Harassment Charges in Pennsylvania?
Penalties for harassment can range from a summary offense to a third-degree misdemeanor charge. Summary offenses are punishable by up to 90 days of jail time, and fines up to $300. Third-degree misdemeanors are punishable by up to 1 full year of jail time, and fines up to $2,000. The penalties for this crime will increase by one grade if a person has violated a PFA order in this act, or has continued their harassment of this same victim or their family. The severity of the penalty will depend on the circumstances of the event. Some examples of harassment are considered summary offenses, while others are considered to be misdemeanors.
What are Some Examples of Harassment?
There are a number of different ways that a person can commit the crime of harassment. These can include the following:
- A person has repeatedly attempted to contact the victim
- A person has sent lewd content to the victim
- A person has made several threats to the victim
- A person has attempted to contact the victim at an inconvenient time, such as late at night
- A person follows the victim around in public places
- A person threatens a minor through the use of the internet
- A person uses the internet to send sexual or disparaging remarks to a minor
- A person has made physical contact with the victim with the intent to do harm
The statute does contain one important provision: intent. In all of these examples, it must be proven in court that the defendant was intending to cause harm to the victim.
How Can I Defend Against Harassment Charges in Pennsylvania?
Harassment is a charge that is similar to stalking, however, the penalties are lower. This does mean, however, that it may be easier for the prosecution to bring a case against a defendant. The crime of harassment relies heavily on a person's intent. This means in court, the prosecution will attempt to prove that a person had intended to cause the victim to feel harassed. In the case of any communications, the prosecutor will use the defendant's words against them. Sometimes, alleged victims of harassment will also make statements that can be used in court against a defendant as well.
The key to defending against these charges is making sure that the defendant's side of events is heard. The prosecution will attempt to disprove the defendant's claims, but a strong defense attorney can make sure that a defendant's side of the story is heard.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
Facing criminal charges for harassment can be a difficult ordeal for a defendant. Many times, the nature of the crime causes the prosecution and sometimes the jury to feel as though a defendant is guilty. A skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney can help.
If you or a loved one is facing criminal harassment charges, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today.