When you think of a stalking case, you usually think about a man following a stranger around, or about a jealous ex-boyfriend spying on his former lover and harassing her. Yet, interestingly enough, anti-stalking laws in California were first introduced for completely different reasons, that have nothing to do with estranged lovers and angry ex-boyfriends. In 1990, California enacted Penal Code 646.9, as the result of attacks that were perpetrated against famous actresses Theresa Saldana and Rebecca Shaefer. Both were attacked by obsessed fans who stalked the actresses before attacking them. Theresa Saldana survived her attack, but unfortunately Rebecca Shaeffer did not, with her death providing the impetus necessary to pass anti-stalking legislation in California. In 1993, California’s state legislature amended PC 646.9 to make the legal consequences for stalking even more severe, and as a result California maintains some of the strictest anti-stalking laws in the country.
Currently, the overwhelming majority of stalking cases processed by the law system in California have nothing to do with celebrities or their fans. Also, most stalking incidents do notoccur between strangers, as less than half of stalking victims are harassed by people they did not know previously. Studies indicate that most people who experience stalking are stalked by people they knew beforehand, usually someone with whom the stalking victim was engaged in a romantic relationship. While some victims of stalking are males, unsurprisingly the vast majority of stalking victims are female, as it is estimated that over 80% of stalking victims in California are women.
If you’re partof a dispute involving an accusation of stalking, or are looking to bring charges against someone due to their stalking behavior, do not hesitate to contact a legal professional. Call 619-393-8588 to connect with Domestic Violence Attorney group. Our lawyers have handled stalking cases of all kinds, and understand well how to deal with the legal system surrounding stalking in San Diego.
If you’re partof a stalking case, you probably want to understand the basics of how stalking laws function in California. Here is a synopsis of the fundamentals of stalking law:
Legal Components of Stalking
Not all unwanted behavior necessarily counts as stalking according to the rules outlined in California law. For behavior to officially violate California’s stalking laws, certain conditions must be met. First, the behavior must be willful, malicious, and repeated to constitute stalking under the law. Second, the stalking must have made the alleged victim feel as if you were harassing them and exercising a credible threat against them. To fully understand these criteria, let’s unpack them a bit more:
The act of stalking must be fully willful in order for the behavior to violate PC 646.9. If someone accidentally keeps running into another person, perhaps because they work and/or live in the same area, then this would not count as stalking. For behavior to be seen as stalking, it has to be exposed that the supposed perpetrator of the stalking made a conscious decision to willfully stalk another person. However, for stalking behavior to be deemed willful, it doesn’t need to be demonstrated that the supposed perpetrator was aware of the fact that their behavior violated the law, or that their behavior was causing the alleged victim to feel harassed. For behavior to be willful, it only has to be exposed that they meant to carry out the action in question.
For behavior to fully count as stalking, it also has to be exposed that the behavior was malicious, meaning that the supposed perpetrator was aware of the fact their behavior was bothersome, and meant to injury, disturb, or otherwise annoy the alleged victim through their stalking. This means that some behavior that might appear as stalking does not violate PC 646.9 since the behavior was not intentionally harmful. If a divorcee willfully follows an ex-spouse around town in their car for the purpose of providing that person protection, this doesn’t necessarily count as stalking, even if the alleged victim is aware of the behavior and deeply bothered by it. Only if the divorcee had malicious intentions when following around the ex-spouse would this behavior count as stalking.
For behavior to violate California’s laws prohibiting stalking, the behavior cannot have occurred only one time. For a citizen to in the end be found guilty of stalking, it has to be exposed that they engaged in stalking behavior on more than one occasion. However, it is also not required for the behavior to have taken place a large number of times. For stalking behavior to be seen as repeated, it only has to be exposed that the behavior took place on at least two occasions.
Not all bothersome or annoying behavior necessarily is viewed as harassment from a purely legal perspective. To count as harassment, behavior must seriously annoy, torment, alarm, or terrorize the alleged victim. This means that forms of behavior that don’t cause the alleged victims to feel any of these feelings, and only slightly bothers them, aren’t technically harassment. Also, it has to be exposed that the person carrying out the alleged stalking did so through what is called a “course of conduct.”
A course of conduct is a confluence of two or more actions over a set period of time that exhibits a continued purpose, meaning that the two acts were part of a single drive. If a person accused of stalking engaged in two or more actions, but these actions were isolated incidents and in no way connected to one another, then the behavior couldn’t be considered harassment. Lastly, for behavior to count as stalking, it has to be exposed that it served no legitimate purpose, meaning that there was no understandable and lawful reason behind the behavior. If a charitable organization repeatedly calls you on the phone, this most likely would not be viewed as harassment by the legal system, as there exists a legitimate purpose for the calls.
The last criterion for stalking behavior is often the most difficult to prove, which is that the stalking must make the alleged victim feel subject to a credible threat. This means that the stalking behavior made the alleged victim feel reasonable fear for their immediate wellbeing, or for the immediate wellbeing of their family. For a threat to be seen as credible by the law, it has to be demonstrated that the person carrying out the threat actually possessed the capacity to carry out the threat in question. If as part of stalking behavior, a person called you up and told you they were going to drop a nuclear bomb on your house, this wouldn’t be considered a credible threat, since this person would not have the ability to actually carry out this threat.
Also, the person making the threat doesn’t need to actually intend to carry out the threat in order for the threat to be seen as credible. Even if the person making the threat never even considered acting on the threat for a single moment, the threat is considered credible as long as it made the alleged victim actually feel fear for their safety. Credible threats can be communicated through a number of means, such as orally, in writing, through a variety of electronic communication methods (text messages, phone calls, voicemails, social media messages, emails, etc.). Incarceration is not a usable defense for an accusation involving a credible threat, as previous rulings have demonstrated that incarcerated persons can be deemed guilty of employing credible threats.
How You Can Battle Accusations of Stalking in Court
When facing charges of stalking, not all hope is lost, as there exist numbers of tried and tested legal defense for such charges. Not all of these defenses can be used in every situation, rather it is best to examine these possible legal defenses with a legal professional and then decide which one applies best to you and your predicament. Here are some of the more commonly seen legal defenses in California for charges of stalking under PC 646.9:
You will not be convicted of stalking in California if you and your attorney can show that your behavior is protected by constitutional rights outlined in the first amendment. These include the right to free speech, the right to protest, and the right to form an assembly. This is because behavior can only be viewed as harassment and therefore constitute as stalking if the behavior has no reasonable purpose, and the use of one’s constitutional rights indeed counts as a reasonable purpose. This means that a person is allowed to willfully follow around another person and engage in behavior that might appear as stalking, so long as the purpose of that behavior is to exercise constitutional rights. You and a group of people can follow around the CEO of a company who is polluting the nearby river, if you are doing so as part of a protest protected under the first amendment. However, you are not allowed to credibly threaten another person or group of people as part of your rights outlined under the first amendment. Those who make credible threats as part of an exercise of free speech or as part of a protest can still be charged with breaking the law, under stalking statutes and others.
You just might be able to successfully rebuff an accusation of stalking in a courtroom if you and your lawyer are able to show that the threat you made could not be perceived as credible by any reasonable person. The most common method of demonstrating that a threat could not be seen as credible is by explaining that the threat was totally impossible to carry out. If you threatened someone by telling that person that you planned on using your magical powers to make them disappear, then you might be able to argue that the threat was not credible, as you obviously wouldn’t be able to carry out that farfetched threat. Also, a threat cannot be considered credible if it was clear that the threat was not serious, and only was communicated as a joke. In this situation, the legal defense must be able to prove beyond a doubt that the threat was only a joke, as many people will falsely try to claim that a very real threat was only meant as a joke to avoid punishment.
According to the legal definition of stalking, the victim must feel reasonable fear in order for the behavior to count legally as stalking. There are a few different reasons why someone might not feel fear as the result of a credible threat. The alleged victim may not have felt actual fear because they believed the person making the threats did not possess an intention to actually carry the threats out. This alleged victim may also have not felt fear as the result of a threat involving physical force because they did not view the alleged stalker as someone capable of inflicting harm via physical force. There are a few ways through which you can try to prove the accuser did not feel any fear. If the stalking and threats were communicated through a messaging service, you might be able to identify a particular message in which the accuser expressed the fact that they did not feel fear.
You can also fight charges of stalking by claiming that the fear felt by the alleged victim was not reasonable based on the circumstances of the situation. If you threatened the victim in an unreasonable manner, say by threatening to have the President of the US come and beat them up, then you could argue that there fear was not reasonable, as there is no way a person should reasonably feel fear from such an outlandish threat. You can also argue that someone’s fear was unreasonable if the threat didn’t involve anything genuinely fearful. If someone threatened to lightly poke another person on the shoulder, this type of action could not have caused them to feel reasonable fear.
In order for an action to be seen as a threat under California’s stalking laws, the threat must be communicated in one of the forms outlined above. If a threat was communicated via another method, say through the use of a threatening gesture or other form of gesticulation, then this could not be considered a criminal threat under California law.
As mentioned briefly towards the beginning of this article, the consequences for stalking in California are among the most severe in the country. PC 646.9 is classified as a wobbler, which means that PC 646.9 can be prosecuted as a felony crime, or as a misdemeanor crime. Whether your crime will be prosecuted as a felony or as a misdemeanor depends almost entirely on the specific circumstances under which the crime took place, and on your criminal background.
If convictedofjust a misdemeanor under California stalking law, you may face a number of different penalties. If found guilty, you could face a fine of up to $1,000, and/or a sentence of up to one year in the nearest county jail. Alternatively, you could be sentenced to informal probation, and thus be required to take part in counseling services and/or reside in a California-run hospital that helps people with mental difficulties. Lastly, the judge may enact a restraining order to prevent you from contacting the target of the stalking.
If convicted of a felony, you may be forced to pay a fine of up to $1,000, and/or serve a jail sentence of between sixteen months and five years. Alternatively, you may be obligated to take part in felony probation, and counseling services, or reside in a mental health facility run by the state. Additionally, you may have to follow a restraining order that prevents you from contacting the target of the crime, as well as register on the sex offender list if the stalking involved sexual behavior. If released on parole, you may be subject to specialized and intensive supervision program as long as you are on parole.
Usually, it is up to the discretion of the prosecutor regarding whether to charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony. However, a stalking crime must be charged as a felony if you have previously been found guilty of stalking, or if the stalking occurred in violation of an official protective order, also known as a restraining order.