Stalking has become a crime that authorities in California take seriously. Decades ago, no real provisions existed to protect people against the actions of stalkers. An unfortunate consequence of the lack of any criminal statute often led to an escalation contributing to additional crimes. Stalking can turn violent. It may do so far quicker than anticipated. If someone can be charged and convicted of stalking, then subsequent crimes could potentially be avoided.
Not everyone accused or charged with stalking, however, truly is guilty of the crime. Yet, someone falsely accused could face charges and a trial. An effective defense of weak or false charges could help someone avoid a criminal conviction.
Most people have a general idea of what stalking is. The California Penal Code § 646.9 PC goes into clear detail about what constitutes stalking as well as penalties for a guilty verdict.
Stalking and the Criminal Code
With criminal stalking, the burden of proof rests on the prosecutor to build a case that the defendant both “intentionally and maliciously” harassed and/or followed the victim. Also, a credible threat would need to be made against the victim via a definitive course of conduct. This threat must be performed with a direct intent to cause fear. In regards to fear, the victim must feel fear that harm may be inflicted upon his or her person or be fearful that an immediate family member would suffer harm.
Under the law, harassment need not be conducted in person. Electronic communication devices such as phones, computers, and even fax machine are examples of machines noted in the statute. Conveying threats with malicious intent through these devices can lead to charges of stalking.
Stalking also sometimes involves violations of an order of protection. If such an order exists, the document must be presented in court during the proceedings.
Convictions and Penalties
The crime of stalking is taken as a very serious matter in the state of California. Stalking is charged as a felony. A conviction for a stalking charge under this statute ultimately means a permanent criminal record along with a loss of many rights due to a felony on a record.
Persons convicted of felony stalking may be sentenced to up to one year in jail. Also, the convicted faces a fine of upwards of $1,000. Both the fine and the jail sentence may be imposed at the same time. Also, the jail sentence may see the convicted remanded to either the county jail or state prison.
Violations of the stalking statute when a restraining order is in effect comes with an even more stringent punishment. A person convicted of a violation may be sentenced to two to four years in prison.
An individual who repeatedly commits stalking crimes faces even more dire penalties. A person previously convicted of stalking once looks at two to five years in prison for a conviction of a subsequent offense.
Depending upon the circumstances surrounding the conviction, the defendant may be required to register as a sex offender. Obviously, the convicted would be required with all state requirements that come with being on a sex offender registry.
The court may also impose mandatory counseling along with instituting a restraining order.
Possible Defenses to Stalking Charges
With a skilled defense lawyer, the merits of a stalking charge can be challenged in court. An attorney could employ certain statutory rules to dismiss the charges. For example, the attorney may be able to prove no such things as a true “credible threat” existed based on lack of evidence. The law notes a “course of conduct” refers to two or more incidents. The attorney could disprove claims of incidents. Harassment must also be connected to “no legitimate purpose.” Repeatedly warning someone to stay off private property under the threat of being arrested could invoke fear and be deemed a threat. However, this course of conduct that invokes may be protected under the “legitimate purpose” provision.
An attorney experienced with defending these cases could be a great help to someone looking at a conviction. The attorney might be able to devise a plea bargain or petition for leniency during sentencing.
Regardless of the circumstances of a particular case, the defendent does need a skilled attorney representing him/her.