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Stalking is a grave offense as it puts a person in fear for their safety or the safety of their loved ones. You commit this offense when you harass, follow, or threaten another person to the extent that they are afraid for their safety. Stalking is a wobbler offense. Prosecutors charge it as a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the details of the case and the offender’s criminal history. A conviction has severe penalties, including lengthy jail or prison time and a hefty court fine. You could also suffer other life-changing consequences for having a criminal record after a stalking conviction.

However, our experienced criminal lawyers at Desert Defense Lawyers can help you obtain a favorable outcome for your case. If you face stalking charges in Palm Desert, we will streamline the complex legal process for you, protect your rights, explain your options, and be with you until you are happy with your case’s outcome.

What Does Stalking Entail?

The law against stalking and its legal definition is under PC 646.9. You can violate this law in many ways, including making continuous calls and sending threatening messages to someone against their will. Stalking makes the other person fear for their safety and/or the safety of the people they love. That is why the law provides harsh penalties for anyone found guilty. The offense’s legal meaning contains all the elements of the crime that the district must prove for the court to give a guilty verdict. Thus, if you face stalking charges, the DA must prove the following for you to be guilty:

  • You willingly, maliciously, and repeatedly harassed or followed someone
  • You made credible threats against the person, intending to place them in fear for their safety or the safety of their loved ones

If you face stalking charges for engaging in a legally protected act, you are not guilty.

For example, if you were exercising your right to free speech, joining an assembly, or participating in a legal protest, you could argue that your actions are allowed under the Constitution. Otherwise, the prosecutor will prove your case with valid evidence, and the jury will deliver a guilty verdict.

If you face stalking charges, it is advisable to understand what your charges legally mean and entail. Then, you will prepare well for trial and present a valid defense to compel the court to reduce or dismiss your charges. For that reason, let us look at the elements of the offense in greater detail to grasp its actual meaning:

A Willful, Malicious, and Repeated Act

Stalking is a willful and malicious act that you repeatedly do, causing another person reasonable fear. You act willfully when you do something purposefully or willingly.

When you act maliciously, it means that you intentionally commit a wrongful act against another person or do something to annoy, injure, or disturb another person unlawfully.

When you repeat willful and malicious acts against another person, it becomes stalking. Thus, you cannot face charges for a once-off wrongful act under this statute.

The Harassment

Most stalking cases involve some form of harassment, whereby you willfully and knowingly act against another person to alarm, annoy, terrorize, or torment them. Your conduct, in this case, must not have any legitimate purpose. It must also be a course of behavior, meaning it must have occurred within a particular timeframe.  The length of the period does not have to be significant; it can be long or short. What matters is that the prosecutor can demonstrate continuous intent.

Credible Threat

Stalking also involves making credible threats against another person. The legal meaning of credible threats is threats that cause a person to truly fear for their safety or the safety of their immediate family. The issuer of the threat must also have the ability to carry out the threat.

You can make credible threats in writing, orally, or electronically. You can also imply a credible threat with a particular pattern of behavior or several acts or statements.

Reasonable Fear

The person you are stalking must experience reasonable fear for their safety or the safety of close family members. You must also intend for them to experience that kind of fear. While it is challenging for prosecutors to prove a person’s intent beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge will consider other factors, including your statements or behavior, to rule in the case. What matters is that the threat you made to the alleged victim or their family was true. A true threat is typically not a joke, an exaggerated political statement, or legally protected speech.

Fear for Others’s Safety

According to this statute, the victim must suffer reasonable fear for their safety and/or the safety of their immediate family. The immediate family, in this case, means the following people:

  • The victim’s parent, child, or spouse
  • Their grandparent, grandchild, sister, brother, or anyone related to them by marriage or blood

Possible Penalties for a Stalking Conviction

A stalking offense can result in two types of penalties: criminal and civil penalties. Your victim can file a criminal case against you or pursue compensation for damages in a civil court. It is essential to understand your options and how to protect your rights when that happens.

The Criminal Penalties

When your victim files a criminal case against you in court, and the jury delivers a guilty verdict, you will face a sentence according to your case details and criminal history. Generally, stalking is a wobbler. It means that you can face misdemeanor or felony charges. If the prosecutor files misdemeanor charges, you will likely receive the following penalties upon conviction:

  • Misdemeanor probation for up to three years
  • One year in jail
  • $1,000 in court fines

If the prosecutor files felony charges, your penalties will be graver and could include the following:

  • Felony probation for up to a maximum of five years
  • A maximum of five years in prison
  • $1,000 in court fines

In some cases, stalking is a straight felony. You will automatically face a felony charge if the following are true:

  • You committed the offense and violated a protective or restraining order
  • You have one or more prior stalking convictions on your record, even if your current victim is different

Civil Penalties

Even after filing criminal charges against you, your victim can still file a lawsuit against you for stalking. This allows them to recover any damages they could have incurred due to your behavior. A civil court judge will review their claim and consider their evidence to grant the petition. When that happens, you must pay total compensation for all their damages.

But the victim must demonstrate the following for the judge to grant their damages in a civil lawsuit:

  • You engaged in a stream of behavior that included harassing or following them (The victim needs solid and independent evidence other than their statement to demonstrate this.)
  • Your conduct placed them in reasonable or actual fear for their safety and the safety of their loved ones
  • You made credible threats against their safety or the safety of their family and could not stop even after they asked you to or
  • You violated a judge-issued restraining or protective order through your conduct.

If the judge grants their petition, you must pay a substantial amount to the victim in compensatory damages. These include economic and non-economic damages, like medical and counseling costs, pain, and suffering. They can use the money to cater to some of the needs that your stalking has necessitated. The judge could also grant punitive damages if evidence indicates that your behavior was grossly or criminally negligent.

Other Consequences of a Stalking Conviction

A stalking conviction does not just result in incarceration and court fines. It leaves you with a criminal record that will impact several areas of your life, like your social and career lives. You could face difficulties finding a good job or apartment to rent because of your criminal record. People who conduct background checks on others can use your criminal past against you. You must fight hard to avoid a conviction and all its negative influences. 

A stalking conviction can also have serious immigration consequences if you are an immigrant living in Palm Desert. Most crimes that affect your immigration situation are moral turpitude crimes, drug crimes, gun offenses, domestic violence, and aggravated felonies. They can cause the immigration department to deport you or mark you as inadmissible in the United States. While stalking is not a crime of moral turpitude or a drug offense, it can become an aggravated felony under specific circumstances. For example, if you seriously injure or murder your stalking victim, you could face deportation after serving your sentence for the underlying offense.

A felony conviction under this statute will also impact your gun rights. While all adults in California are allowed to possess or purchase firearms, the law prohibits a specific group from even using a gun. These people include:

  • Felons or people who have a felony conviction for any offense and in any jurisdiction
  • Those addicted to narcotics
  • People with a mental illness
  • Those with at least two convictions for brandishing a gun
  • People with a misdemeanor conviction for a particular offense, like corporate injury on an intimate partner
  • Anyone below the age of 18

Since stalking is a wobbler offense, a conviction will likely affect your gun rights, especially if you face felony charges.

Expungement of Your Conviction Record

A criminal conviction can harm your life, especially since its record remains even after serving your sentence. But the law allows you to start afresh through expungement. It means that the court can remove that particular conviction from your record, making it inaccessible to anyone conducting a background check on you. People will no longer know of the conviction and will not treat you according to your criminal past. But you must disclose the conviction when applying for a government office.

Under PC 1203.4, expungement eliminates all the adverse effects and limitations of a criminal conviction. It gives you a fresh start. If you wish to find employment and fear that your criminal record could influence potential employers, an expungement can be beneficial.

However, you must wait until you complete your sentence to file for expungement. You will do so in the same court where the conviction occurred. If you were on probation, the judge would consider your performance. The judge will grant your petition if you did well and did not violate your probation. When they do, you will no longer worry about that particular conviction's limitations and negative influences on your life. 

Legal Defense Strategies for Stalking Charges

If you face stalking charges, it helps to know that you can change the outcome of your case. The essence of a trial is to allow you to defend yourself with compelling evidence and arguments. You can also seek the assistance of a skilled criminal defense attorney to reduce your chances of receiving a guilty verdict. Fortunately, defense attorneys can use several strategies to fight criminal charges on their client’s behalf. Your attorney can use these strategies to compel the court to dismiss or reduce your charges:

The Threat Was Not Credible

Stalking involves making a credible threat against a person and causing that person to fear for their safety or the safety of the people they love. If your threat is unreasonable and you can show it in court, the judge will dismiss your charges. Remember that a credible threat is believable. You also need to have the ability to carry it out. The jury could dismiss your charges if your threat does not satisfy those two elements.

For example, if you were only joking with the person and had no intention of causing them any harm, the judge can dismiss your charge.

You Did Not Intend to Cause The Victim Fear

Stalking also involves acts or statements that put another person in actual fear for their well-being. You must also intend to cause them fear. If that is not the case, you are not guilty under PC 646.9. For example, if you issue threats jokingly or to impress another person and have no intention of causing the other person fear, you can defend yourself using this strategy. The judge will consider the circumstances of your actions and could rule in your favor.

Your Utterances or Actions are Constitutionally Protected

The Constitution allows people to make utterances or display some behavior, provided they do not harm others. For example, you can participate in an assembly or public protest without harming others, the environment, or destroying property. If a particular person aggrieves you, you can make public utterances without causing the other person to suffer reasonable fear. The judge will dismiss your charges if you demonstrate that your actions are constitutionally protected.

Related Charges

Here are some of the offenses that are closely related to stalking:

Kidnapping, PC 207

Some stalking cases escalate to kidnapping, prompting the prosecutor to file both charges. Kidnapping occurs when you use fear or force to move another person over a significant distance against their will. However, the two offenses are different in that kidnapping involves a physical aspect of moving the victim. It is a felony offense, punishable by up to eight years in prison. It is also a strike offense under the three-strikes law, impacting your sentence for other subsequence strikes.

Making Annoying Calls

According to PC 653, continuously making annoying or unwanted calls to another person is a criminal offense. You violate this law when you repeatedly call another person against their will. You can do so to threaten, annoy, or harass them. Under this law, you can also face charges for establishing continuous or repeated electronic communication with another person against their will. The offense is a misdemeanor, punishable by a six-month jail term and $1,000 in court fines.

Making Criminal Threats

It is unlawful for any person to make a criminal threat against another, according to PC 422. A criminal threat occurs when you threaten to harm or kill another person physically. The threat must place the person in fear for their safety or the safety of their loved ones. The threat must also be specific and could be issued in writing, orally, or electronically.

Though the legal definition of criminal threat and stalking has almost similar elements, the former does not focus more on stalking, but on the kind of threat you issue against the alleged victim.

A criminal threat offense is also a wobbler, punishable by a maximum of three years.

Find a Competent Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

A stalking charge is severe and can significantly alter your life if the judge delivers a guilty verdict. But you can change the outcome of your case by putting a solid defense against your charges. You must seek an experienced lawyer to help you with the legal process and defense.

At Desert Defense Lawyers, we have extensive experience handling all kinds of domestic-related cases, including stalking. Thus, we can study your case at Palm Desert to help you understand your charges and legal options. We will also protect your rights and use the best defense strategies to fight for a fair resolution of your case. Call us at 888-293-0396 to learn more about your charges and our services.

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