Stalking isn’t a romantic gesture to show someone you’re interested in him or her. Stalking is a course of conduct that causes the victim to be in reasonable fear. It’s not just one incident of asking a girl out on a date; stalking is a pattern of behavior where one person follows, texts, e-mails, and otherwise pesters someone who doesn’t want that attention.
Often, stalking occurs by a former spouse or lover after the victim leaves them. Frequently, the stalking is a continuation of domestic violence in that relationship. Sometimes, people with mental illnesses stalk acquaintances, celebrities, or politicians because of delusions of a relationship with that person or an obsession with a particular political issue.
States have developed laws to prohibit stalking. The terminology and penalties vary by state, and sometimes there are related harassment laws. West Virginia law makes both stalking and harassment a crime. Some states have a specific type of protection order for stalking victims to recognize the differences between stalking and domestic violence.
In West Virginia, a judge can order a protection order only upon a conviction for the stalking crime. Otherwise, stalking victims who were never in a relationship with the stalker can’t request a protection order because the protection order laws require the abuser to have been married, dated, lived with, had a child with, or be related to the victim. This leaves a gap in the law for stalking and sexual assault victims who’ve had no relationship with their stalker or attacker.
West Virginia Stalking Laws
The following table outlines the stalking laws in West Virginia.
||West Virginia Code Section 61-2-9a: Stalking & Harassment, Penalties & Definitions
|What is Prohibited?
||West Virginia prohibits stalking and harassment. Stalking is repeatedly (two or more times) following another person knowing or having reason to know that the conduct causes the victim to reasonably fear for his or her safety or suffer significant emotional distress.
Harassment is repeatedly harassing (willful conduct directed at a person that would cause a reasonable person mental or emotion injury) or making credible threats to another person.
||Stalking and harassing are typically misdemeanors that can be punished by at most six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Violation of Protection Orders
If you stalk or harass an individual in violation of a court order or injunction related to a divorce case or an emergency protection order, the punishment is increased to between 90 days and one year in jail and a fine between $2,000 and $5,000.
Violating a domestic violence protection order by stalking is a felony that’s punishable by one to five years incarceration and a $3,000 to $10,000 fine.
If convicted a second time within five years of the prior conviction, the crime is increased to a felony. For this, the offender can be imprisoned for between one and five years and fined between $3,000 and $10,000.
If released early on probation or part of a prison sentence is suspended, the court can require counseling or medical treatment as a condition of release.
|Restraining or Protection Orders
||Upon conviction, the court may issue a restraining order for period not to exceed 10 years. If the restraining order is over 5 years, it must be necessarily that long to protect the stalking victim or his or her immediate family.
Also, if arrested for a stalking offense and bonded out of jail, avoiding all direct or indirect contact with the victim is a condition of release.
|Constitutionally Protected Activities Exempted
||You can’t be convicted of stalking if it’s for activities related to labor disputes, demonstrations at government locations, or other activities that are protected by the Constitution.
Help for Victims
If someone is stalking you, please reach out for help. Call 911 in an emergency or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for safety planning and referrals. The West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information & Services (FRIS) has information on local resources for stalking, domestic violence, and sexual assault.
Help for Accused Stalkers
If you’re charged with a stalking-related crime, you should immediately stop contacting and avoid all contact with the alleged victim. Do NOT follow, watch, text, call, e-mail, or otherwise contact him or her. You also should hire an experienced West Virginia criminal defense lawyer.
Note: State laws are revised regularly. You should contact a lawyer or conduct your own legal research to verify these stalking laws.
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