When a person describes stalking charges, often times an image is conjured to the mind of a shrouded figure following a hapless victim home. In reality, however, stalking charges can arise from a number of different circumstances. In fact, a person may be behaving in behavior that may cause them to have stalking charges without realizing it. Things such as contacting a person repeatedly, or appearing at their residence in an effort to get in touch with them can become stalking charges, even if the defendant did not mean any harm by their actions. These situations can be made worse when a defendant has been accused of any domestic violence acts or has a PFA (protection from abuse) order filed against them.
Stalking Charges in Pennsylvania
Stalking is defined in Pennsylvania statute 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 2709.1. The statute states that a person commits the crime of stalking when they:
- Engage in a course of conduct or repeatedly commit acts towards another person, including following the person without proper authority, under circumstances which demonstrate either an intent to place them in reasonable of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress
- Engage in a course of conduct or repeatedly communicates to another person under circumstances which demonstrate or communicate either an intent to place them in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress
What Are the Penalties for Stalking Charges?
Stalking can be charged at different levels depending on a person's criminal history with the offense. Under most circumstances, stalking is considered a first-degree misdemeanor. Second and subsequent offenses, however, will be a class 3 felony, if one of the following circumstances applies:
- The defendant has been convicted of a violent crime involving the same person or their family or household member
- The defendant has a violated a protective order (PFA)
A first-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to 5 years of incarceration and fines up to $10,000. A third-degree felony can be punishable by up to 7 years of incarceration and $15,000 in fines.
While there are criminal consequences to stalking, a person may also suffer consequences across any ongoing family law disputes as well, such as divorce arrangements or custody battles.
What Are Some Examples of Stalking?
Many times stalking charges arise from misunderstandings between two individuals. Some examples of situations that can lead to stalking charges can include:
- Repeatedly contacting an individual: Contacting an individual multiple times in row withou a response, especially if that individual has no desire to speak to you, can be considered stalking. This can be done through phone, text, in-person, or any other verbal or non-verbal means.
- Following an individual: Physically following an individual around, especially without any legal authority or their permission to do so can be considered stalking.
- Repeatedly causing an individual to fear for their safety: Actions such as making threats, showing up unexpectedly, and otherwise causing a person to fear for their safety can be considered stalking when done repeatedly towards a person.
- Repeatedly appearing at a person's private residence: When a person is constantly making unannounced appearances at a person's private residence, it may constitute stalking. This is especially the case if the person does not want them to be at their private residence, or feels threatened by their presence.
- Repeatedly making lewd or threatening interactions at an individual: If a person is constantly making lewd, threatening, or otherwise harassing comments at a person, it may constitute stalking. This can range from making comments of sexual innuendo to a person repeatedly, or repeatedly sending lewd messages to someone.
Many times, it is the viewpoint of the alleged victim in these cases that ends up pushing the charges forward against the defendant. A defendant may not have intended to cause harm or fear in the alleged victim, however, the police will often believe their side of the story first.
How Can I Defend Against Stalking Charges?
When a person faces stalking charges, they may be faced with a difficult situation. Stalking charges require a strong defense. Claims of stalking often come down to the alleged victim's word against the defendant's. This can be difficult to defend against in court.
Much of the time, stalking charges require a person to have exhibited a "course of conduct." The statute describes this as:
"A pattern of actions composed of more than one act over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of conduct."
Similar acts in other jurisdictions can also be used to establish a "course of conduct" in court. Once this is established, the court will then decide if the evidence against the defendant shows that they were guilty of stalking. The prosecution may also attempt to prove that the defendant had the intent to cause distress to the alleged victim as well.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
Stalking charges can lead to difficult circumstances in a defendant's life, and may even warrant an act of domestic violence. The already harsh punishments for these acts are exacerbated when a defendant is facing a second offense, or if they have a PFA order against them. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help defend against these charges.
If you or a loved one is facing stalking charges in Pennsylvania, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today.