Stalking and harassment are complicated crimes because the people involved can see the actions very differently. In some cases, an individual may try to re-establish a former relationship or try and prevent a break-up, and they consider trying to contact or communicate with the other person as completely reasonable. However, if the other person alleges the contact is unwanted, and they are placed in fear, then the police may get involved and arrest the alleged stalker.
The lawyers at Dhar Law, LLP in Boston provide assertive legal defense for those accused of harassment or stalking. Contact our attorneys today at 617-391-0592.
What is Stalking?
Stalking generally involves unwanted contact which communicates a threat or places the victim in fear of the stalker. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, stalking requires both a pattern of activity, and making a threat.
Whoever (1) willfully and maliciously engages in a pattern of conducts or series of acts over a period of time directed at a specific person which seriously annoys or alarms that person and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and (2) makes a threat with the intent to place the person in imminent fear of bodily injury or death, is guilty of the crime of stalking.
The penalties associated with a conviction for stalking include up to 5 years in prison, and a fine of up to $1,000. If convicted of stalking while in violation of a temporary or permanent restraining or no-contact order, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 1 year in prison. A second or subsequent stalking conviction is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, with a mandatory minimum of two years.
What Types of Communication Could Be Considered Stalking?
Stalking does not only involve in person or fact-to-face contact. The conduct, acts or threats include those communicated by mail, phone, text, e-mail, instant messages, fax, or other internet communications. That could include postings on social media such as Facebook, or comments through other social media platforms including Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Vine, Google+, and Snapchat.
What is Harassment?
Massachusetts also passed a harassment law to criminalize stalking that does not require a clear threat to be made by the stalker. Criminal harassment involves a pattern of harassing actions that do not necessarily threaten the victim.
To convict a defendant for criminal harassment, the prosecution has to prove the defendant engaged in a knowing pattern of conduct or speech on at least three separate occasions, intended to target a specific person, that the conduct seriously alarmed the victim and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and the conduct was done willfully and maliciously.
The penalties associated with criminal harassment include up to 2 ½ years in prison, and a fine of up to $1,000. A second or subsequent criminal harassment conviction is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Stalking in Violation of a Protective Order
In Massachusetts, a 209A protective order is a civil order that is supposed to provide some level of protection to a victim from physical harm, abuse, or threat of harm from a family member or someone in a current or former dating relationship. A 209A protective order, or restraining order, is issued by the court to prohibit someone from taking certain actions, including approaching or contacting a specific person.
A harassment prevention, also known as a 258E order acts similarly to a 209A protective order, but does not have any restrictions on the relationship between the two people. It is intended to protect a victim from stalking or criminal harassment. An emergency temporary harassment prevention order can be obtained by the police without even going to court, and can be in effect for up to 10 business days.
Violation of a harassment prevention order can result in up to 2 ½ years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The court can also order someone convicted for violating a restraining order to undergo a treatment program.
Possible Defenses to a Charge of Stalking or Criminal Harassment?
Possible defenses will depend on the facts of the individual case. These can include pointing out false statements from the alleged victim, mistaken identity, or lack of intent. If you speak with an experienced Boston criminal defense attorney, they will be able to identify possible defenses to criminal charges in your case, to get your criminal charges dismissed or reduced.
If you are charged with stalking or criminal harassment, do not try and contact the alleged victim, even if you think the whole situation was a simple misunderstanding. Anything you say to law enforcement can later be used against you in court. You should contact an attorney as soon as you learn of an investigation against you, or if you are facing stalking charges. A qualified criminal defense attorney will be able to clarify the specific issues facing their client, identify the elements of the crime, explore all legal defenses, and defend their client in court.
Contact Dhar Law LLP in Boston today at 617-391-0592.