There’s a difference between showing up where someone else is repeatedly because of coincidence and stalking someone. Even if you mean to show up where another person is and they are slightly annoyed at this fact, it doesn’t mean you’re stalking them, and the difference between actual stalking and noncriminal annoyance can help keep you out of jail.
Discover how California defines stalking below to learn more about what actions are legally considered criminal stalking in LA County. Then find out how a criminal defense attorney can help if you are accused of crimes, including stalking or criminal threats.
What Constitutes Stalking in California?
Simply following someone around, accidentally or on purpose, is not necessarily stalking. To be considered criminal stalking, someone’s activities must meet the following requirements:
- They must be malicious and willful
- They must include threats to the victim
- They must cause the victim to fear for their own safety or for the safety of immediate family members
What Does Malicious and Willful Mean?
To meet this requirement for stalking, the actions must be purposeful. The person doing them must mean to do them. If you’re accidentally running into someone repeatedly through coincidence, this would not count as stalking—no matter how many times it happens or how annoyed or worried the other person might be about the situation.
To be considered criminal stalking, the actions must also be carried out with an intent to injure, annoy, or otherwise cause anguish to the other person. If you meant to follow the person but you aren’t doing so maliciously or with any ill intent, your actions may not be considered stalking.
What Is a Credible Threat?
In most cases, the prosecution must demonstrate that there was a reasonable and credible threat to the other person—or that the other person reasonably believed that there was a threat. A threat might exist when:
- The person accused of stalking is shown to have written, said, or otherwise communicated a specific threat
- The person implied a threat through their actions or behaviors
- The threat is reasonable, believable, and could actually be followed up on
If you say to someone, “I will send you to the moon,” it’s not a credible threat. You don’t actually have the capacity to send someone to the moon, so a reasonable person would know that this is not a valid threat and is simply an exaggerated response to a situation. If, however, you send someone texts stating you will stab them, this is a credible threat because it’s reasonable to believe someone has the capacity to carry out such an action.
What Is Reasonable Fear?
When making stalking cases against defendants, prosecutors must show that the alleged victim experienced a reasonable fear. You may be able to defend against stalking charges if you can demonstrate that your actions and words were:
- Obvious jokes that anyone should have reasonably seen as an attempt at humor, even if they didn’t find it funny themselves
- Exaggerated political speech that any reasonable person would know was not backed by any intent at follow-through
- Legally protected speech used during a protest
- Part of a misunderstanding that may be obvious to third parties once the facts are all explained
What Are the Penalties for Stalking?
If you are convicted of stalking charges in LA County, you may face stiff penalties. The exact nature of the penalties depends on the severity of the stalking charges. If you are convicted of misdemeanor stalking charges, you may face up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. In contrast, felony stalking charges can come with prison time of up to five years and a fine of up to $1,000.
The law also provides a path for alleged victims of stalking to seek civil stalking damages. This can mean that you might face a civil lawsuit. If you lose the lawsuit, you can be on the hook for compensatory and punitive damages related to the stalking. Civil cases are tried separately from criminal cases, and the person filing the lawsuit must prove that the stalking occurred and that they experienced damages related to it. However, if you are convicted of the stalking charges, this may make a civil case more likely.
Get Help From a Professional for Your Criminal Defense
Facing criminal charges of any type can be frightening. You may not know what to do and how to protect your freedom and rights. That’s why it’s important to reach out to a criminal defense lawyer as soon as you learn about charges against you.
You might not think a stalking charge is a big deal, especially if it arises from a miscommunication or misunderstanding. However, if someone has gone so far as to make an accusation against you that has led to charges, the matter may not be that easy to clear up. You might even find yourself facing other charges, such as those related to sex crimes, due to such misunderstandings.
A criminal defense attorney can help you understand all your options and build a strong case for your defense. They can also help you navigate the criminal justice system and help you make the best choices when facing plea bargains and other decisions. To find out more about how an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you face stalking charges, contact the Law Offices of Jerry Nicholson today.