Stalking is a crime that can leave the victim fearing for their life or the safety of their family. San Diego police take the enforcement of stalking laws in California very seriously, whether the alleged perpetrator is a seemingly random stranger, an acquaintance, or an ex-romantic partner. If you have been accused of this crime, call a San Diego stalking defense attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights and avoid saying something that could incriminate you.
Defining Stalking Under the Law
Under California penal code section 646.9 (PC), stalking is the willful, malicious, and repeated following or harassing of another person, paired with a credible threat that leaves the victim feeling fearful for their safety or the safety of their immediate family. While “following” is a reasonably obvious term when it comes to stalking charges, California law defines harassing behavior as willful conduct that seriously alarms, annoys, terrorizes, or torments the intended victim with no legitimate purpose. Stalking can be done through the mail, in person, or using electronic means such as phones and computers, known as cyberstalking.
If you have questions about what behaviors may or may not be covered by these laws, your criminal defense attorney can help.
Penalties for Breaking Stalking Laws in California
Stalking is a “wobbler” offense, meaning prosecutors have the discretion to file misdemeanor or felony charges. As a misdemeanor, it’s punishable by up to 1 year in the County jail. As a felony, a sentence can include up to 3 years in state prison, and the conviction will also count as a strike on your criminal record.
Whether filed as a felony or misdemeanor, offenders are often also ordered to complete anger management classes or domestic batterer’s classes if the victim was a romantic partner. Depending on the specifics of the situation, an offender may also be required to register as a sex offender.
Anyone who has violated a court-issued stay-away order or who has a prior conviction for stalking will automatically face felony charges and enhanced sentencing of up to 5 years in prison.
A stalking conviction can also be used as evidence in a civil lawsuit against the offender. It is common for victims to sue their stalkers for damages related to their emotional suffering and any costs the victim incurred trying to escape from the troublesome behavior, such as hotel expenses. When the lawsuit is successful, the court may also award punitive damages.
Related Criminal Charges
Those charged with stalking are also frequently accused of making criminal threats or harassing phone calls. Many defendants also face domestic violence charges as the person claiming to be victimized by the crime is an ex-romantic partner. If the stalking occurred after someone filed a protective order against the perpetrator, the defendant will likely also face a restraining order violation. When the alleged stalker is accused of illegally entering private property, they may also be accused of aggravated trespassing, a felony-level offense.
Defenses Against Stalking Charges
Your criminal defense attorney may use a number of different defenses if you have been accused of stalking someone. Each case is unique, and it is always advisable to speak with a lawyer to avoid saying something that could be interpreted as a confession. One common method of fighting the charges is claiming that the alleged behavior does not meet the necessary legal requirements to be considered stalking. For example, stalking did not occur under the law if the threat was not credible, the defendant did not target the victim willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly, or there was no intent to place a person in reasonable fear.
Another defense can be to claim that the alleged victim is making up the allegations. In some cases, your attorney may argue that your behavior is constitutionally protected; you were picketing outside a local politician’s house, for example.
Call a Defense Attorney Today
When you contact his office regarding stalking accusations, Peter M. Liss will review your case, including your relationship with the alleged victim and any previous accusations against you, to determine the best course of action for your particular situation. Please call (760) 643-4050 as soon as possible to schedule a free consultation.