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Stalking is a term that is used in a lot of different contexts, and it can have different meanings to different people. In Pennsylvania, stalking is a criminal offense that can have some serious consequences for those who are found guilty.
1. What is the definition of stalking?
The criminal offense of stalking has two elements, meaning that a fact finder has to agree that a defendant committed both parts of the crime in order to be found guilty.
The first element is that the defendant had to commit two or more acts of unwanted behavior. It does not matter how much time passed between the two acts.
The second element is that the victim must be put in reasonable fear of serious bodily injury or suffer severe emotional distress. This means that the behavior of the defendant has to be something more than a couple of unwanted text messages or engage in a verbal argument.
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2. Who can file charges against someone for stalking?
Even though the victim of stalking makes the initial report or complaint to the police, it is the district attorney’s office who decides whether to press charges or not. That is because stalking is a criminal offense.
Those accused of stalking can hire an attorney, go to trial, negotiate a plea deal, and plead their innocence in front of the court. Stalking charges also go on criminal records of those who are found guilty.
3. What are some actions that are considered stalking?
Stalking can occur in many different ways. A stalker can send multiple unwanted cards, flowers or gifts to a victim. They can also follow the victim on foot or by car, or show up in person at their home or workplace uninvited.
They can also call or text them an excessive amount of times. They may even text only a few times, but the content is so disturbing that a reasonable person would be in fear of serious bodily injury or suffer emotional distress.
Other actions that may constitute stalking are watching someone at work or home or taking photos of them without permission. A person can also be considered stalking if they threaten to harm the victim or the victim’s friends, family members, or even pets if they do not do what the stalker wants.
While there is no specific action that makes an alleged stalker guilty, the court will consider all of the actions and words of the alleged stalker and victim to determine whether the elements of stalking have been proven.
4. What remedies do stalking victims have?
If someone is a victim of stalking, there are several actions they can take to protect themselves.
First, they can file a petition for a “Protection From Abuse”. This is a document that allows the police to arrest the alleged stalker even if they did not witness the stalking first hand.
A Protection From Abuse can be requested if the victim and alleged stalker are related, were married, have children together, or are romantically involved and the victim believes the stalker will cause them serious bodily injury. A qualified attorney or domestic abuse specialist can assist with obtaining this document.
Victims can also send a defiant trespass letter to their stalker via certified mail. This type of letter serves as a formal request to the recipient not to visit the sender’s work or home or contact the sender. These letters can be customized based on the situation. It is a good idea to have a lawyer draft this letter.
Though these letters do not involve the court, they can sometimes help prove that a victim is being stalked. In sending these letters, the victim must remember not to include any personal information such as home addresses or numbers.
Another option for victims is to seek a victim protection order if the perpetrator is going to be arrested and charged. This order can be granted by the court if the victim makes a criminal complaint and, based upon the evidence reviewed by the prosecutor, the court determines that the victim is in immediate danger.
A protective order allows police to take the person who violates the order into custody and offers temporary protection for the victim through the court order.
Protection from Abuse Orders are not immediately granted, and they are sometimes difficult to obtain. If an individual believes they are in danger and need a protective order, they should seek the assistance of an experienced criminal or family law attorney.
5. What happens to people who are convicted of stalking?
Stalking is considered a serious crime under Pennsylvania statutes. It is classified as a first degree misdemeanor, meaning those who are convicted of stalking face up to five years’ imprisonment and up to $10,000 in fines.
Even if the individual is not convicted, and arrest can lead to complications with present and future employers and can cause a great deal of stress and financial consequences.
Contact the Offices of Marni J. Snyder Today
If you are being accused of stalking or someone is stalking you, our offices can help guide you through this difficult time. These are serious charges, and they require immediate attention. Our seasoned legal team is ready to fight for you. Call us today at 215-515-3360 for a free consultation.