The crime of stalking can be simply described as the unwanted pursuit of another person. Examples of this type of behavior includes following a person, appearing at a person's home or place of business, making harassing phone calls, leaving written messages or objects, or vandalizing a person's property.
By its nature, stalking is not a one-time event, but rather a pattern of behavior meant to cause harm or distress. The individual's actions must be considered in connection with other actions to determine if someone is being stalked. It includes repeated harassing or threatening behavior toward another person, whether that person is a total stranger, slight acquaintance, current or former intimate partner, or anyone else.
In most states, stalking laws pertain to the relatively new crime involving a clear pattern of conduct in which the offender follows, harasses, or threatens another person, putting that person in fear for his or her safety. An individual may be charged with stalking regardless of any pre-existing relationship with the victim.
In California, for instance, stalking is defined as:
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.
So, for example, Dan spends a number of hours each week harassing Victoria, his former girlfriend, by following her home from work, sending her threatening emails, and calling her in the middle of the night. It isn't just a one-time occurrence, but a pattern of harassment and threats. Dan could likely be charged with stalking.
Stalking and Domestic Violence
While stalking is often discussed in the context of celebrities and the paparazzi, the vast majority of cases involve domestic partners, estranged spouses, or romantic interests of some kind. For this reason, stalking charges often come in relation to domestic violence cases, where one party has intimidated or threatened violence against the other party. Typically, an order of protection is issued when charges of domestic violence are filed.
In addition to criminal charges, those suspected of stalking may be subject to the terms of a protective order. Protective orders (also called orders of protection and restraining orders) are issued by judges and require the subject of the order -- the suspect or defendant -- to remain a certain distance away from the alleged victim for a specified period of time. Penalties for violating a protective order can be quite severe, including jail time in some states.
Facing Stalking Charges? Get Help From an Attorney
The crime of stalking usually requires a pattern of behavior with an intent to cause fear or suffering, but each state has its own definition and penalties. If you're being investigated or charged with a stalking crime or any criminal matter carrying the threat of custodial penalties, you should consider speaking with an experienced criminal defense attorney near you.