STALKING CHARGES IN PENNSYLVANIA

When one thinks of the term stalking, they think of celebrity stalking cases where a mentally ill fan harasses a public figure. However, in reality, stalking typically applies to a pattern of conduct that occurs between current or former spouses and romantic partners. It can include threatening or inappropriate phone calls, emails, letters, text messages, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter messages, or repeatedly following around another individual.

STALKING DEFINED

An accused person commits the crime of stalking if he or she:

  • Engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts toward another person, including following the person without proper authority, under circumstances which demonstrate either an intent to place such other person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress to such other person; or

  • Engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly communicates to another person under circumstances which demonstrate or communicate either an intent to place such other person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress to such other person.

There are specific definitions which apply to the elements of these offenses. To establish a course of conduct, the Commonwealth must prove a pattern of actions of more than one act over a period of time showing continuous behavior. Actions include lewd, sexual, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings, caricatures or actions in person or anonymously. Communications include all spoken, non-verbal, written or electronic forms, such as telephone, email, internet, fax, and other forms of transmission. Emotional distress is a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.

HOW SEVERE ARE MY STALKING CHARGES?

Stalking is typically graded as a 1st Degree Misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of up to 5 years in jail and a $10,000 fine. However, stalking can be charged as a 3rd Degree Felony punishable by a maximum sentence of up to 7 years in jail and a $15,000 fine, if:

  • It is the actor’s second or subsequent stalking offense;

  • It is the actor’s first stalking offense and the actor has been previously convicted of a violent crime involving the same victim, including simple assault, aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, kidnapping, and sexual offenses; or

  • It is the actors’ first stalking offense and the actor is subject to a protective order or Protection From Abuse (PFA) order.

IN WHAT COUNTY OR JURISDICTION CAN I FACE STALKING CHARGES?

Under PA law, a person can be charged with Stalking at either the place where the communications were made or the place where the communications were received. Typically, police will file charges in the location where the alleged victim received the contact. Actions occurring in one location can be used to bolster a case in another jurisdiction. For example, if an accused is being prosecuted in Allegheny County for sending threatening text messages from multiple locations outside of the county, the messaging that occurred out of county can be used in the Allegheny County case.

WHY AM I BEING CHARGED WITH STALKING?

As someone who has both prosecuted and defended those accused of stalking, Attorney Zuckerman has defended those accused of stalking in a wide array of scenarios, including:

  • Police tell neighbors to stay away from one another, and one neighbor persists in having contact with the other neighbor. An agreement was later reached for a dismissal of the case;

  • An actor has been previously told to avoid coming to a bar where a particular individual works, and proceeded to re-appear at the bar several years later. Charges were dropped in connection with a guilty plea to other offenses;

  • A college student was accused of breaking into his ex-girlfriend’s apartment. Charges were reduced to summary offenses in connection with an agreement;

  • An ex-boyfriend falsely accused of sending hostile text messages to an ex-girlfriend while a PFA remained active. Charges were later dropped after exonerating evidence surfaced;

If you are charged with Stalking in PA, it is critically important to retain legal counsel as soon as possible. For those in the Pittsburgh and Western PA area, contact the Zuckerman Law Firm immediately at 412-447-5580 for a free confidential consultation.