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How Is Stalking Defined Under California Law?

November 6, 2019

Stalking may be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor

How Is Stalking Defined Under California Law?

In recent years, the crime of stalking has received an increasing amount of attention as Californians recognize the damage that it can do to an individual. Even if a person is never physically harmed, the stress of being followed or harassed can take a significant toll on their well-being.

Given the seriousness of stalking crimes, it isn’t surprising that police and prosecutors are more aggressive about charging this offense. Yet it can be difficult to prove that a person actually committed this crime — and police may be eager to charge someone without proof that the stalking actually occurred. Having a skilled criminal defense lawyer San Diego, CA to represent you can make the difference between a conviction and a dismissal of charges (or a not guilty verdict) in these circumstances.

In California, a prosecutor must prove that a defendant:

  • Willfully and maliciously harassed or willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly followed another person, and
  • Made a credible threat with the intent to place the other person in reasonable fear for his safety (or for the safety of his immediate family).

In other words, a person must have followed or harassed another person on purpose, with a malicious intent. They must also have threatened that person, or their immediate family.

There are a number of possible defenses to a charge of stalking. First, a criminal defense lawyer San Diego, CA can argue that there was simply no credible threat of harm. If the alleged stalker made a threat that was clearly a joke — or was one that they couldn’t possibly carry out — then it was not a credible threat.

Second, if there wasn’t an intent to cause fear, then the stalking charge cannot stand. The threat must have been made with an intent to cause fear. If a person “threatens” something like sending pizza to someone’s house every week, they might have thought they were being generous — even though the other person thought it was creepy and weird. If there was no intent to cause fear, it isn’t stalking under California law.

Third, the activity that the defendant is accused of engaging in may have been constitutionally-protected activity. For example, the defendant may show up every week — or even every day — at a local politician’s office, carrying signs and protesting. While this may feel like harassment and may even feel threatening to the politician, it isn’t stalking because the defendant is engaged in constitutionally-protected activity.

The penalties for stalking can be significant.It may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history. As a misdemeanor, the punishment includes misdemeanor probation, up to 1 year in county jail, and/or a fine of up to $1,000. As a felony, it is punishable by felony probation, up to 5 years in state prison, and/or a fine of up to $1,000. An alleged stalking victim may also file a civil suit for damages related to stalking.

If you have been charged with stalking or any California crime, the Chambers Law Firm is here for you. We represent Californians who have been charged with a range of offenses, from relatively minor to capital crimes, aggressively defending each and every one of our clients. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation with a criminal defense lawyer San Diego, CA.

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