There are a number of high profile stalking cases, where so-called stalkers followed and harassed celebrities, even breaking into their homes and making threats. However, stalking is not limited to movie stars and famous musicians. Anyone can become a stalking victim. Unfortunately, innocent people may be accused of stalking because of jealousy or a relationship gone sour. If you were arrested for stalking in the East Bay, you do not have to plead guilty just because you were arrested.
California Stalking Laws
Under California Penal Code PC §646.9, any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, or harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family is guilty of the crime of stalking.
Elements of Stalking
The prosecutor has to prove all the elements of a stalking charge in order for the jury to find a defendant guilty of the crime of stalking. This includes showing that the defendant:
- Willfully and maliciously;
- Harassed or repeatedly followed another person; and
- The defendant made a credible threat with the intent to place in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or for the safety of his or her immediate family.
Harassment involves engaging in conduct that seriously annoys, torments, terrorizes, or alarms the person. Generally, harassment requires a course of conduct involving two or more acts over a period of time. A single harassing action may not be enough to constitute stalking. However, two acts, even over the course of a few minutes, may demonstrate the continuous pattern of harassment.
A “credible threat” is a threat causes a person to reasonably fear for their safety or the safety of an immediate family member. A threat can come from words spoken to the victim in person, over the phone, or threats made in writing. Increasingly, credible threats involve messages sent by text, email, or sent through social media.
“Immediate family” is not limited to blood relatives. It also includes family by marriage or even roommates. This includes:
- Grandparents or grandchildren
- Brother and sisters related by blood or marriage
- Any person who regularly lives in the same household
Criminal Penalties for Stalking
Under California Penal Code PC §646.9, stalking may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the situation. The penalties for stalking include imprisonment for up to one year in the county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Stalking in violation of a temporary restraining order, injunction, or other court order may result in felony charges, with penalties including 2, 3, or 4 years in prison.
If the defendant has a prior felony conviction for stalking, a second or subsequent conviction is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. They may also be required to register as a sex offender.
Stalking penalties can also include probation, mandatory counseling, community service, a temporary restraining order or criminal protective order.
According to statistics, most victims know their stalker, with many of the victims stalked by a former intimate partner. Almost half of stalking victims experience at least one unwanted contact per week.
In addition to stalking harassment or threats, there may be other criminal actions related to stalking, including:
- Sexual assault
- Damaging property
- Violating protective orders
- Burglarizing the victim's home
- Disclosing personal information
- Injuring the victim's pets
If the defendant and alleged victim are “intimate partners,” stalking may also result in domestic violence charges. Domestic violence includes spouses, partners, and former partners, people cohabiting, or someone they share a child with.
Multiple Stalking Convictions and California Sex Offender Registry
If convicted of felony stalking, a subsequent stalking conviction may also result in being labeled a sex offender. Even if the stalking activity never involved sexual assault, sexual threats, or other sex offense, multiple stalking convictions can result in registration as a sex offender for life, under California Penal Code PC §290.006.
Under Megan's Law, sex offenders are required to register with local law enforcement. You will need to re-register every year, and register anytime you move, work in a job where you are around children, or go to school. Failure to timely register with law enforcement may result in criminal charges.
Defenses to Stalking Charges
There may be a number of defenses to stalking charges in California. Some defenses to stalking may include:
- Mistaken identification
- There was no continuous or repeated harassment
- No threats were made
- Any statements were protected under the defendant's right to free speech
- Another person was sending messages in the defendant's name
In many cases, the alleged stalking victim may falsely accuse someone of stalking. The defendant may be falsely accused of stalking for a number of reasons, including making another person jealous, to get attention from a partner, or they felt jilted by the defendant or the defendant refused their advances.
Talk to your attorney about possible defenses in your stalking case. Your East Bay criminal defense attorney will identify the strengths of your case and the weaknesses in the prosecutor's side, to provide the best defense.
East Bay Stalking Defense Attorney
Lynn Gorelick has more than 30 years of criminal defense experience defending her clients facing stalking or harassment charges. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success, to maintain a clean record and keep her clients out of jail. Whether you are arrested in Oakland, Richmond or anywhere else in Contra Costa County or Alameda County, contact Lynn Gorelick.