Stalking is a serious crime that can be a felony or misdemeanor. All 50 states have criminal laws against stalking. The specific definition of the crime varies among jurisdictions but typically involves a pattern of following, watching, or monitoring another person with the intent to harass, frighten, intimidate, threaten, or cause the person emotional distress. Examples of stalking behavior include:
- following someone
- showing up or driving by a person’s home, workplace, or school
- monitoring a person’s computer, cell phone, or social networking activity
- secretly placing a GPS device on someone's vehicle in order to track the person
- sending unwanted letters, gifts, or email
- secretly photographing or videotaping someone
- gathering information about a person using public records or Internet searches, private investigators, or contact with the person’s friends, neighbors, family members, or coworkers
- threatening to hurt the person or the person’s friends, family members, or pets, and
- damaging the person’s home, vehicle, or other property.
Felony and Misdemeanor Stalking
Misdemeanor stalking is often referred to as “harassment.” The circumstances that make stalking a felony vary with each state’s law. In most states, stalking is a misdemeanor unless:
- the crime is a second or subsequent offense
- the stalking is committed when the offender already has been ordered to stay away from the victim under a court order for no contact, a restraining order, or an order of protection
- the stalking involves specific threats to harm the victim or those close to the victim, or
- the stalking causes serious emotional distress to the victim.
What to Do and Not Do
If you learn the police are investigating you or you are charged with stalking, you should retain an attorney as soon as possible. Be prepared to give your attorney any information you have about the case, the victim, and your relationship with the victim.
There also are several things you should not do if you learn you are being investigated for or charged with stalking. For instance, you should not:
- try to talk to the victim about the case or have any contact with the victim
- talk to law enforcement or other investigators without an attorney present, or
- give any evidence to law enforcement without consulting with a lawyer first—even if you believe the evidence will show you are not guilty of the alleged crime.
As with any criminal charge, the prosecution must prove stalking beyond a reasonable doubt. The following are examples of arguments that, if applicable, can defeat a charge of stalking:
- the prosecution failed to prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt (for instance, the prosecution didn't prove that the defendant followed the victim because it's just as likely that the defendant was travelling to his nearby gym)
- the victim lied about what happened, and
- the victim intentionally or mistakenly identified the wrong person as the offender.
Consult an Attorney
An experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will be aware of the possible defenses to a stalking charge and the issues that need to be explored. An attorney can give you information about the criminal law process and legal advice, investigate the case, and represent you in court if you have been formally charged.