Stalking involves harassing, surveilling, threatening, intimidating or otherwise causing substantial emotional or physical distress to a victim.
Stalking is defined both as physical travel to commit these sorts of offenses, as well as using electronic means and communications to do so. Most federal court cases involving stalking charges which necessitate interstate commerce or communication typically rely on using a telephone system or the internet, both of which meet the federal interstate requirement.
Therefore, most cyberstalking incidents could also be considered federal crimes, covered federal law.
The crime of stalking is defined as a felony at the federal level. Several state laws may classify stalking as either a felony or a misdemeanor, usually taking the severity of the offense and the commission of any concomitant crimes into account.
While the U.S. Code does not provide for the charge of aggravated stalking per se, the penalty for stalking (at the federal level) is enhanced if there is injury or death.
Several states such as Georgia and Florida have the charge of aggravated stalking within their own jurisdictions. Aggravated stalking in this context typically refers to an act of stalking that takes place despite a protective order, or injunction, in favor of the victim having been ordered by the court. If you continue to stalk the victim, despite this protective order or injunction, you might face aggravated stalking.
The penalty for stalking if it does not involve lasting harm to the victim is up to five years imprisonment in addition to fines. If serious injury or disfigurement results from the offense, this penalty is enhanced to between 10 and 20 years imprisonment, and if the victim dies as a result of the stalking offense, the punishment is further increased to a potential life sentence.
State-level stalking charges can be felonies or misdemeanors, depending on the circumstances of the case. In most misdemeanor cases, the potential penalty is up to one year in jail in addition to fines of not more than $5,000. Comparatively, in cases where a felony stalking charge is called for, those convicted could face up to 10 years in prison in addition to fines of up to $20,000.
All stalking charges which result in convictions are applied to the offender’s criminal record.
There are several commonly deployed defenses in response to stalking charges.
As with any criminal charges, the prosecution must prove the guilt of the defendant beyond any reasonable doubt. Therefore, simple innocence may be a viable defense depending on the strength of the material evidence.
Intent is also a requisite aspect for stalking charges. If it can be shown that several of the instances of stalking (say, that the defendant appeared at a venue, such as a restaurant, that the alleged victim also appeared at) were matters of coincidence, this may weaken the case against the defendant.
Further, if it can be shown that the alleged victim may be misconstruing the behavior of the defendant (for example, by selectively sharing text messages with the court while omitting material that damages their case), a defense attorney may be able to cast doubt upon the prosecution’s version of events.
Stalking charges should be taken very seriously whether felony or misdemeanor, federal or state-level and if you’re facing stalking charges, you should retain the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
In any case, you can improve your chances of the most favorable outcome by retaining a lawyer familiar with stalking or harassment cases.