Stalking is a criminal offense in the United States, and California has strict laws against stalking. The regulations make it illegal to follow, harass, or threaten another person.
Being convicted of stalking can attract hefty penalties and can ruin your future. If you have been charged with stalking, contact a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney for legal consultation.
How Does the Law in California Define Stalking?
By definition, stalking is not a one-time occurrence but harassment done repeatedly. Under California Penal Code 646.9 PC, the three main components of stalking include:
- Maliciously, willfully, and frequently following or harassing a person
- Making a credible threat to a person’s safety or that of their immediate family
- Placing a person in reasonable fear for their safety
Stalking can take many forms and isn’t limited to physically following someone for some time. The offense can take many forms, including:
- Repeatedly making harassing phone calls
- Constantly showing up at someone’s house or workplace
- Vandalizing the victim’s property
- Continuously sending unwarranted notes, messages, or objects to the victim
- Swatting or falsely reporting a target’s residence as a crime scene
The Emergence of Cyber Stalking
Not long ago, stalking was only possible through physical interaction. However, stalking can now happen through electronic communication and offenders can face charges for the same. Stalkers today use various modes like social media, email, spyware, text messages, and instant messages to stalk their targets.
Actions that amount to stalking include:
- Posting inaccurate information concerning someone on the internet
- Transmitting explicit or intimidating messages
- Online message boards, chat rooms, and social media bullying
- Placing orders for products or services using someone else’s name
When facing charges for stalking, it’s in your best interest to work alongside a reputable Los Angeles domestic abuse law firm. The lawyers can create a solid defense to have the charges dropped or the penalties reduced.
What Does California Penal Code §646.9(a) Prohibit?
Stalking can seem reasonably innocent, but it can be dangerous. Initially, the domestic violence laws in California focused on fighting violence against partners, spouses, and estranged spouses. Later, legislators recognized that domestic violence takes many forms that may not involve violence but can make the victim feel unsafe, such as stalking.
Legislators amended California PEN 646.9 to prohibit stalking in addition to domestic violence. It holds offenders liable for repeated harassment and threats. A violation of the statute is a felony, and a conviction has severe penalties. A domestic abuse law firm in Los Angeles can fight to ensure a fair trial to protect your rights.
How Does the Law in California Punish Stalkers?
If a prosecutor brings stalking charges against you, they could do so under federal interstate stalking laws. The offense is charged as a felony since it’s against the law to follow or harass someone from one state to another.
If you cause someone to worry about their safety or that of their immediate family members, the law can heavily punish you upon conviction. Stalking can attract either criminal or civil penalties.
A violation of the statutes against stalking is a wobbler and can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. A criminal charge depends on your past criminal record and the severity of the offense. If you’re facing charges for a felony and are convicted of the same, you risk facing the following penalties:
- A maximum fine of $1,000
- At least six months in state prison
- Formal probation
If you’re facing charges for stalking as a misdemeanor, a conviction could see the jury impose the following penalties:
- Up to 12 months in jail
- Court fines of $1,000 or more
- Misdemeanor probation
While a felony charge has more severe penalties, you only risk being charged with a felony if the plaintiff has a restraining order against you. You could also be charged if you have a previous sentencing record for stalking the same or a different target. An experienced criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles could help you fight the charges to protect your rights.
A plaintiff can file a civil lawsuit to pursue damages, which could attract civil penalties in addition to criminal ones. The burden of proof lies with the victim as the jury requires them to prove the following:
- You repeatedly engaged in activities that intended to alarm, trail, or harm them
- Your actions caused reasonable fear or harm to the victim
- You continued to threaten the victim even after they asked you to stop or got a protective order against you
If the plaintiff has compelling evidence to prove these elements, you may be required to pay compensatory damages. The court may also award punitive damages to add to your punishment and deter other potential stalkers.
Revocation of Your Immigration Status
If you’re a foreign immigrant or deemed inadmissible, a conviction of violating California anti-stalking statute could affect your immigration status. You could face immigration consequences like deportation if the charge is elevated from a felony to an aggravated felony, depending on the circumstances of your case.
Loss of Firearm Ownership Rights
If convicted of felony stalking, you could lose your firearm ownership rights if you own one. Since the offense is a wobbler, the prosecutor could charge it as a felony or misdemeanor, with a felony charge and conviction affecting your firearm rights. A domestic abuse law firm in Los Angeles could fight for you during the trial to help reduce the charges.
Strategic Legal Professional Defending Your Rights in California
Stalking in California is an offense that attracts hefty penalties that could affect all aspects of your life. Apart from the fines and possible jail time, a conviction also affects your immigration status and firearm ownership rights. Consider hiring the services of experienced lawyers from a reputable Los Angeles criminal defense law firm to fight such accusations.
Our lawyers have several years of experience representing clients facing stalking charges California wide. We can evaluate the evidence brought against you and challenge it in court to have the charges reduced or dropped altogether. We take our responsibility to our clients seriously, and we want to defend you aggressively against your accusers. Call us today to get started.