Stalking and harassment crimes generally involve two people who know each other, often intimately. For this reason, when a person is facing charges for stalking or criminal harassment, he may have been unaware that his behavior had crossed into criminal territory. If you feel jealous or betrayed, you may act out of character. But when these actions cause another to suffer emotional distress, you might find yourself behind bars.
Elements of Stalking
To justify a stalking conviction, the following circumstances must have been present:
- The defendant acted willfully and maliciously.
- The defendant knowingly engaged in a series of acts.
- The acts were directed at a specific person.
- The acts caused that person to experience serious alarm.
- The acts would have caused any reasonable person to suffer emotional distress.
Stalking can be done in person, over the phone, or through any mode of communication, including email, text and social media, or even by fax. When stalking occurs over electronic channels, it is known as cyber stalking. A MA defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with stalking or criminal harassment.
Stalking Doesn’t Always Start as a Criminal Act
Stalking and harassment typically originate from less-threatening behaviors. Take the following scenario as an example: Gretchen ends her relationship with Tim. She just doesn’t feel the same way about him anymore, and – honestly – she’s been seeing another guy. Tim sends a text to Gretchen, asking her to reconsider. He knows about Jack and forgives her for her infidelity. “Let’s just start over,” he pleads. Tim doesn’t hear back from Gretchen, so he sends a lengthy email apologizing for all the things he did wrong during their relationship, and a voice mail asking her to have dinner with him to discuss and “patch things up.” Although Tim’s communications were directed at a specific person, and occurred in a series, they weren’t malicious, and they probably didn’t cause Gretchen any serious alarm.
But several days pass and Tim doesn’t hear from Gretchen. He starts to get angry. He fires off more emails and texts, but this time he accuses Gretchen of being the reason for all of their problems. He even starts calling her nasty names. Gretchen still doesn’t respond. On day three, Tim can’t take the silence anymore. How can she just ignore him, just toss him out like a bag of garbage – after everything he has done for her! In his blinding anger, Tim begins to send threatening messages. He tells Gretchen that if she doesn’t call him back soon, he’s going to kill Jack. Tim begins visiting Jack’s place of employment. He doesn’t do anything serious – just sits in his car and watches Jack eat lunch. He knows Jack sees him, and hopes the home wrecker gets the point. A few days later, the police show up at Tim’s house, arresting him on stalking charges.
Perception is Key
In the above scenario, Tim may have never intended to harm Jack or Gretchen, but the pair feared for their safety. Tim caused both Gretchen and Jack to experience serious alarm. It’s their perception of what Tim intended that matters, even if he never planned to hurt anyone. A Boston criminal defense attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with stalking or criminal harassment.
Penalties for Stalking and Harassment
As with most crimes, penalties for stalking and harassment are largely dependent on prior criminal history and the particulars of the case. If convicted, you may face:\
- First offense: Up to two-and-a-half years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.
- Second or subsequent offense: Mandatory minimum of two years in prison, up to 10 years.
- Stalking in violation of a protection order: Mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison, up to five years.
Altman & Altman, LLP – Boston’s Top Criminal Defense Law Firm
If you have been charged with any type of crime, the skilled legal team at Altman & Altman, LLP can help. We have been protecting the rights of accident and injury victims for more than 50 years. Our experienced, knowledgeable attorneys have an impressive track record of getting clients’ charges reduced, or dismissed entirely. Don’t go through this difficult time alone. Contact Altman & Altman, LLP today for a free and confidential consultation about your case.