Stalking is a relatively new crime now on the books in every state. It is generally defined as the intentional, repeated following of a person for the purpose of harassing the person with express or implied threats of violence or death. The definitions vary only slightly from state to state with some states adding things like lying in wait, surveillance, or warnings from police officers. Stalking statutes have become very important legal devices that, with protective orders, can help shield people from the threatening or harassing behavior of others in a variety of circumstances.
Most notably, celebrities have been the victims of stalking activity, when fans become obsessed with the object of their attention. Stalking may also occur when a jilted lover becomes obsessed with his or her ex-lover or spouse, or even when a person becomes obsessed with a complete stranger or co-worker. The crime can turn every day life into a nightmare for the victim of this crime. Consequently states have been quick to enact laws that specifically protect victims from harassing or stalking activity, even if the victim has not yet actually been physically injured by the defendant.
Several states have particular requirements in order for enhanced penalties to apply. The enhanced stalking crimes are usually distinguished by their designations as either first and second degree, or felony and misdemeanor stalking. Most often, enhancements are if the victim is below a certain age, or if the defendant has violated a court order or protective order, or if a deadly weapon was used.
Certain notorious cases have given rise in some states to specific legislation aimed at protecting particular persons. This may be the case in Illinois and New Jersey, each of which have provisions that state that incarcerated persons in penal institutions who transmit threats are not barred from prosecution under their stalking legislation.
Minnesota has a very broad stalker statute that exemplifies the variety of situations in which the law is used. Under this law, a person can be found guilty of stalking by harassment, or by intent to injure person, property or rights of another. A stalker may stalk using telephone calls, letters, telegraphs, delivery of packages or engaging in any conduct which interferes or intrudes on another's privacy or liberty. These acts are considered "gross misdemeanors." They are various situations where the crime of stalking in Minnesota is increased to a felony if the harassing activity is based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability or national origin, if stalking is accomplished by falsely impersonating another or using a dangerous weapon, if the victim is under 18 or if stalker is more than 36 months older than the victim. Although Minnesota's state is unusual in terms of the breadth and detailed listing of activities covered, nearly every element contained in it can be found in some form in the provisions of some other state. A few states have added to the stalker's penalties liability for the victim's counseling for emotional trauma caused by the stress of the stalking experience.