Stalking is often associated with obsessive fans harassing movie stars. Many times, however, stalking cases are far less dramatic. A domestic dispute can escalate to a stalking charge, or a spurned suitor may simply have gone too far in to gain the attention of the person whose affections they are seeking.
Stalking is a course of conduct in which an individual continually or repeatedly threatens, communicates, observes, or physically interferes with a person’s privacy or property. They must interfere in a way that would cause a reasonable person to suffer significant mental distress or to cause a person to reasonably fear for their safety or the safety of others.
The stalker must have acted on at least two occasions. The harassment usually manifests in the form of persistent telephone calls, sending unwanted gifts, letters, emails, making threats, or observing or following the victim in such a way as to instill fear for their safety. The observation, following, or communication usually has no legitimate purpose other than to harass or alarm the victim. The stalker must also have the apparent ability to carry out a threat, if made.
Stalking in New Jersey can be a second, third or fourth degree crime:
The act is committed if the offender knowingly pursues conduct against a specific person that would cause that person to fear for their safety, the safety of another, or to suffer emotional distress. A fourth degree crime carries a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
A person who commits an act of stalking in violation of an existing court order, usually a restraining order against the offender, commits the crime while on probation or parole or commits a second or subsequent crime of stalking against the same victim, is guilty of a third degree offense and faces 3 to 5 years in prison and a fine up to $15,000.
If you are arrested for stalking, do not talk to the police or to anyone else and immediately ask to speak to an attorney. Do not trust any promises made by law enforcement of leniency or of immediate release for giving a statement.
Any conversations you have over the phone or with other inmates may be recorded or that person may be an agent of law enforcement. Regardless of your actions, only disclose the facts and circumstances of your case to an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Many times a victim may mistake a person’s intentions as constituting a threat to them, such as sending unwanted gifts or repeated letters. A criminal defense lawyer may be able to convince a court or prosecutor to downgrade the offense to harassment, a petty disorderly persons offense.
Further, the accused may have only wished to harass or annoy the victim with no intention of causing bodily harm or causing emotional distress. An attorney can also purport that the defendant’s actions would not have caused a reasonable person to experience significant emotional distress or to fear for their safety or others. In these instances a skilled attorney can assert that the offender’s actions do not amount to stalking.
Stalking is a criminal offense with serious implications if you are convicted. A criminal conviction can stay on your record permanently and affect your ability to find employment, schooling, obtains loans, security clearances, professional licenses, and affect your immigration status.
Only by consulting with an experienced criminal defense lawyer can you be assured that you will present the best defense possible and that all legal options have been explored.