Stalking charges are often a result of a misunderstanding between the accused and the accuser. In a modern interconnected world, facing stacking accusations is easier than ever. Stalking can be a felony or gross misdemeanor in Washington and is often similar to the charge of harassment.
If you’ve been accused of stalking, it’s imperative to contact a Seattle criminal justice attorney as soon as possible, whether or not formal charges have been filed. The attorney can help you take legal steps to lessen the chances of facing a stalking conviction.
What is Stalking Behavior?
Stalking is when someone constantly behaves in a way that harasses or threatens another and makes them feel afraid.
It can be classified into:
- Physical stalking behavior like following a person around, showing up where they are without being invited, waiting around their home, leaving unwanted gifts, monitoring their communication, or having someone else do these things on your behalf
- Cyberstalking, which happens via the internet, social media platforms, electronic tools, and text messages to threaten or send unsolicited messages or calls.
Harassment and Stalking
These two are interrelated offenses in Washington based on various elements of the law. If you’re charged with stalking, you also could face harassment charges as per the Revised Code 9A.46.020 if you:
- Cause bodily harm to someone
- Damage their property
- Subject the victim to restraint or physical confinement
- Act maliciously in a way that substantially harms the victim
Determining whether behavior qualifies as stalking and harassment can be a little complex. The prosecuting attorney must prove beyond reasonable doubt that stalking has happened. A Seattle criminal threats attorney can help you create a strong defense against the charges to protect your freedom and future.
What Does the Law Say About Stalking in Washington State?
While federal law 18 U.S.C. § 2261A handles interstate stalking, individual states and territories must define their stalking laws. Washington stalking laws are among the strongest in protecting residents. So strong are the laws that federal judges struck down Washington’s 2004 cyberstalking law, terming it unconstitutional.
Misdemeanor stalking is the most common stalking offense. Evidence of the following circumstances could have you charged with a gross misdemeanor:
- Intentionally harassing or following a person more than one time and
- The victim having reasonable fear that you intended to injure them or damage their property and
- You knew or should have known that the behavior would create fear or amount to intimidation or harassment, even if it wasn’t intentional
A stalking offense is a Class C felony if there is evidence of the above circumstances and the following factors apply:
- You have previously been convicted of harassing the victim of a member of their family
- Your behavior violates a protection order in favor of the victim
- You have a prior conviction for stalking another individual
- The stalking was directed at someone whose work is related to the legal system, and the act was in retaliation for something they did while on official duty
- You stalked the victim in retaliation for their witness testimony in a court proceeding
Stalking Penalties in Washington
Misdemeanor offenses often don’t sound serious, but they are and could affect your freedom and future. A gross misdemeanor conviction in Washington can devastate your employment prospects and harm your reputation.
The penalties for misdemeanor stalking are:
- A maximum of 364 days in jail
- A fine of not more than $5,000
Felony stalking convictions are more server and often have a long prison time. The penalties are:
- A maximum of 10 years in prison
- A maximum fine of $20,000
When going through a trial for stalking, it’s in your best interest to work with an experienced Seattle criminal justice lawyer. They can help you create a strong defense and possibly have the charges reduced or dropped altogether.
What Should I Do After Being Arrested for Stalking
Once you’ve been accused of stalking, it’s best to stop contacting and communicating with the victim. That will minimize the chances of email, text messages, and other communication types from being taken out of context and used against you in court.
Additionally, the court may issue a NO Contact Order as a condition for your release after being arrested for stalking. If your accuser changes their mind and doesn’t want you to be prosecuted, the prosecutor may not drop the charges. The state may require them to testify with a court order.
Remember to exercise your right to remain quiet to avoid saying something that may incriminate you. You also should contact a criminal threats lawyer immediately to have them begin the negotiations. The sooner this happens, the more likely you can avoid jail time and other complications that may arise when you don’t have legal representation.
What Are the Possible Defenses of Stalking Charges?
A skilled and experienced attorney can help you challenge the evidence brought against you. They can position you for acquittal by challenging the prosecutor’s proof, or lack thereof, depending on specific aspects of criminal staling defined in the law.
Possible defenses to the charges include:
- You did not issue threats to anyone
- Your comment wasn’t a credible threat, meaning that the accuser exaggerated it or it was unrealistic or unserious
- There was no serious emotional distress caused to the victim as a result of the comment or your actions
- You only contacted the victim once, which doesn’t qualify as repeat conduct that amounts to stalking
An Aggressive Criminal Justice Lawyer Defending You Against Stalking Charges
You could be accused of stalking, yet you didn’t mean to cause harm or inflict pain on anyone with your actions. The penalties of a stalking conviction can be harsh and could ruin your freedom and future. That’s why you should contact a skilled criminal threats lawyer in Seattle to prepare a strong defense against the evidence the prosecutor brings before the court.
We can work as quickly as possible to investigate your case’s circumstances to protect your rights. Our criminal threats attorney in Seattle is an established and respected attorney and will put his experienced and knowledge of the law to work to defend your rights. Contact us to schedule a FREE case evaluation.