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California has some of the strictest stalking laws in the country. After several high-profile, violent attacks on celebrities, the legislature passed Penal Code 646.9 in 1990. Although these well-documented attacks were mainly responsible for passage of the law, the vast majority of California stalking cases do not involve a famous personality. It’s far more likely for accusations of stalking to be made among ordinary people. Just as disturbing, it’s not unusual for such charges to be made against friends, coworkers, former spouses and other acquaintances.
If you’ve been accused of stalking in Los Angeles, then you need a capable criminal defense attorney fighting for you. Many people who claim to be stalking victims are merely acting in a malicious manner or are reacting disproportionately to an innocent but misconstrued situation. Some people make accusations of stalking with little thought for how it might affect the person being accused. You must take steps to protect yourself, and the smartest thing you can do is to hire a Los Angeles stalking attorney as soon as possible.
Defining Stalking in California
Researchers believe that fewer than half of all alleged stalking victims are targeted by strangers. This means that most stalking accusations occur between people who are at least acquaintances. Most stalking victims are women. However, approximately 20 percent of stalking victims are men. According to state law, stalking involves following or harassing another individual, making threats against that person and causing that person to fear for their safety or for the welfare of individuals who are close to them.
It’s the prosecutor’s job to prove that the defendant behaved in a manner that was willful, knowing, malicious and repeated. Moreover, the prosecutor must demonstrate that any threats made were credible in nature and that the intent behind the threats was specific enough to place the victim in fear of their safety. In order for behavior to be willful, it must be shown that the defendant willingly engaged in the behavior. It’s not required for the defendant to intend to break the stalking law. Acting knowingly means that the defendant was aware of their actions while behaving maliciously refers to the intent to anger, annoy, disturb or even injure the target of the stalking.
A Credible Threat
In order to establish all of the elements of a stalking case, the prosecutor is burdened with proving that the defendant made a credible threat. Thus, issuing outlandish threats that have no credible basis cannot be used to support the charges. Threats may be made verbally, in writing, over the phone, with emails or in text messages. Regardless of the method, the threat must be specific and cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or for the safety of those closest to them. If you have been accused of making a credible threat against someone, then you need an experienced Los Angeles stalking attorney working on your case.
Behaviors that Are Considered Stalking in California
Sometimes behavior that is or may appear innocent in other circumstances is viewed as stalking. California law does not provide a great deal of specificity with regard to behaviors that constitute stalking. Nonetheless, actions like repeatedly driving by a person’s home or place of work, sending numerous emails, making repeated phone calls and following someone may all be examples of stalking behavior. Taking steps to learn as much as possible about the target can also be considered stalking. Thus, someone who spends hours tracking down pertinent facts about another person could be guilty of stalking. This may include trying to obtain personal information about likes and dislikes, habits, friends and favorite hangouts. Some people may be accused of stalking through electronic means. This may include hacking into private email and social media accounts. Occasionally, stalking suspects are accused of sending unwanted packages or mail. More serious accusations may include allegations of property damage, burglarizing or trespassing.
Domestic Violence and California Stalking Charges
People who were involved in a romantic relationship may find themselves in an even more serious legal situation if one partner accuses the other of stalking. Domestic violence laws may also be brought into play when the parties involved were once intimate with each other. This can mean enhanced sentencing guidelines. Anyone who has been accused of stalking a former romantic partner needs to contact a Los Angeles stalking lawyer with the utmost speed.
Penalties for Stalking in Los Angeles
Stalking may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecutor will choose the level of charges based on the facts of your case and your criminal history. If you are accused of violating a protective order or if you have been convicted of stalking before, then you may be looking at very serious consequences from felony charges. At the misdemeanor level, you may be sentenced to up to one year in jail and a fine of $1,000. Counseling may also be ordered. A felony conviction can mean spending between 16 months and five years in a state prison as well as paying fines and attending counseling. Some people who are convicted at the felony level also have to register as a sex offender.
Protect Your Rights With a Los Angeles Stalking Attorney
The sooner you hire a California criminal defense lawyer, the sooner you may be able to put this incident behind you. Talk to one of our experienced practitioners today to learn more.