A criminal charge for stalking is a serious matter in Hollywood, California. The penalties of a conviction are not light, and the stigmatization of having a stalking conviction on your criminal history can be awkward and difficult to overcome.
There are, however, strong defenses that can be raised against an accusation that you stalked someone else. Hollywood criminal defense attorney William S. Kroger can help.
Stalking Law in Hollywood, California
California Penal Code 646.9 is the statute that prohibits stalking in Hollywood, California. This law makes it illegal to do the following things:
- Repeatedly follow someone else willfully or maliciously
- Willfully and maliciously harass someone else, or
- Make a credible threat against a person, with the intent of putting that person in reasonable fear of their safety or the safety of their family
Stalking requires there be a course of action, rather than just an isolated incident. What constitutes repeated conduct or a course of action, though, often depends on the circumstances. However, the stalking statute in California makes it clear that as few as two incidents can be enough to satisfy this element of the crime.
Legal definition of "Course of conduct"
Penal Code 646.9(f) states that a “‘course of conduct' means two or more acts occurring over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of purpose.”
Willfully and Maliciously
This course of conduct, however, cannot be accidental for it to be considered stalking. Instead, the harassment or threatening has to be done willfully or maliciously. While malicious stalking is done with an intent to break the law or to perform a wrongful act, willfully following or harassing someone can be done with their best interests at heart. Despite these good intentions, though, willfully following or harassing someone still breaks California's stalking statute.
This means that you can still be arrested, charged, and convicted for stalking even if you are only following someone you care about to ensure they do not get hurt.
Legal Definition of "Harassment"
Harassment can have a wide variety of meanings and often depends on the complainant's understanding of the term.
In an attempt to clarify this ambiguity, Penal Code 646.9(e) defines harassment as
- “Knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes the person; and
- Serves no legitimate purpose.”
Of course, this can still be a very fact-intensive investigation, as what annoys one person might not annoy someone else, and the context of the interactions becomes very important.
Credible Threats Causing Reasonable Fear
Finally, making credible threats with the intent of causing reasonable fear in someone else can amount to stalking. A threat is considered credible if the person making it has the apparent ability to carry out the threat, regardless of whether they have the actual intent of following through on it. This focus on appearances is something that often leads to legal trouble for innocent or mistaken actors: If your conduct is misinterpreted as something serious, it can lead to an accusation of stalking.
Of course, the fear that the threat creates still has to be reasonable. Threats to cause harm through means that are absurd or clearly beyond the power of the person making the threat – like threatening someone with alien abduction – rarely create the type of reasonable fear that suffices for a charge for stalking.
Medium of Threats: Conduct, Oral Threats, and Electronic Communications
Credible threats can come in a wide variety of forms. Verbal and written threats can be credible enough to become stalking, but so can silent conduct and even actions that are not in the physical presence of the person claiming that they are being stalked. Under California's stalking statute, a credible threat can be communicated electronically, on the internet, over the phone, or even in a text message. It can even be communicated in non-verbal or silent conduct – amounting to little more than your presence and a meaningful gesture or facial expression – so long as it raises a reasonable fear.
Penalties for a Stalking Conviction in Hollywood, California
Stalking is a “wobbler” in California, allowing prosecutors to pursue either a misdemeanor or a felony conviction depending on the circumstances of the incident and your criminal background. However, a prior conviction for stalking automatically turns a subsequent stalking allegation into a felony-level offense. Additionally, stalking is a felony offense if the incident is in violation of a court-ordered restraining order.
A misdemeanor conviction for stalking comes with up to a year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
If the conviction is for a felony-level offense of stalking, the jail time rises to between 16 months and five years. The fine, though, stays at $1,000.
Defending Against a Charge of Stalking in Hollywood
Because there are so many elements that need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt for a charge of stalking to turn into a conviction for the offense, there are numerous ways to defend against the allegation that you stalked someone. These include:
- Lack of intent. Stalking requires willful or malicious conduct. Many people commute to and from work using the same public transportation, but their conduct does not amount to stalking each other.
- Unreasonable fear. For a threat to amount to stalking, it has to be credible and create a reasonable fear in the person hearing it. Misinterpretations happen and showing that this happened in your case can be an effective defense.
- First Amendment defense. The First Amendment gives you rights of association and speech that the stalking statute cannot touch. Acts of protest or protected speech cannot lead to a stalking conviction, regardless of what the complainant says.
William S. Kroger: Hollywood Criminal Defense Lawyer
William S. Kroger is a Hollywood criminal defense lawyer who represents people in the Hollywood area who have been accused of stalking someone else. With his legal knowledge and representation, attorney Kroger can help you defend against the charges you are facing and show that it was all a misunderstanding. Contact him online or call his Los Angeles law office at (323) 655-5700.