It’s illegal in California to follow, harass or threaten someone to the point that they fear for their safety.
If someone engages in these behaviors they can be charged with stalking. Stalking is a “wobbler” under California law, meaning that it can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the facts of the case. In the most severe cases, a stalking conviction is punishable by five years in state prison.
If you or someone you love is facing stalking charges, it’s important to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Robert M. Helfend is a Ventura stalking defense attorney with more than 30 years of experience. Call today for your free consultation – 805-273-5611.
How does California law define stalking?
Stalking is defined in California Penal Code Section 646.9 PC. In order to convict someone of stalking, a prosecutor must prove:
- The defendant willfully and maliciously followed or harassed another person,
- The defendant made a credible threat against that person,
- The victim was reasonably fearful for his or her safety in response to the threat.
Let’s unpack those elements above. In (1), the term “harassment” under California law is based on the course of conduct that someone engages in, rather than a single act. If a prosecutor can prove that the defendant engaged in intentional and repeated harassment or following, they may be charged with stalking.
In (2), a threat is only a credible threat if it appears that the maker of the threat is able to carry it out.
Finally, (3) requires that the victim was actually reasonably fearful for their safety due to the defendant’s actions. Therefore, a person cannot be convicted of stalking if they were not aware of the threats against them, or if the alleged victim did not respond in fear.
Penalties for a stalking conviction
As mentioned above, a stalking conviction is considered a wobbler in California. This means that it can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.
Misdemeanor stalking carries up to one year in county jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
Felony stalking is punishable by up to five years in state prison and/or a maximum of $10,000 in fines.
If the defendant has a prior stalking conviction or violated a court-issued protective order, the charges can be enhanced to a felony, even if the present offense would otherwise be charged as a misdemeanor.
Defenses against stalking charges
Defending against stalking charges can be difficult. However, there are a few potential defenses that an experienced criminal defense attorney may employ to protect their client’s rights:
- The defendant was falsely accused
- The defendant had no intent to cause fear in the victim
- The alleged victim did not actually fear for his or her safety
- The defendant was exercising his or her First Amendment rights
- The defendant was engaging in constitutionally-protected activity
If you or someone you love is facing stalking charges, it’s important to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
Your stalking defense attorneys will review the details of your case with you and work to build the best possible defense.
Robert M. Helfend is a Ventura stalking defense attorney with more than 30 years of experience. Contact him today for your free consultation – 805-273-5611.