Stalking is one of the most difficult crimes to prove because it is largely subjective. Stalking is made up of a series of actions that, by themselves, are legal but with the intent to harass are illegal. For example, leaving a woman flowers, calling her or waiting outside of her office are all legal actions. Continuing to do so in a manner that causes her to feel fearful and threatened is not. The common legal penalties for stalking depend on a few factors, but they are strong in most states.
The amount of jail time that someone receives depends on whether they are convicted of a misdemeanor or felony stalking charge. For a misdemeanor stalking charge, someone can expect to spend up to one year in jail. For felony stalking, the sentence could be up to five years or longer if there are special circumstances in play. These circumstances may include someone carrying a gun while stalking or stalking their own child.
Another thing that may cause a court to come down harder on a stalker is if they are violating a pre-existing restraining order. In some cases, when behavior becomes unnerving or inappropriate, a victim may request a restraining order that will keep their stalker away from them without sending them to jail. If they violate the restraining order, they are not only guilty of stalking but also of violating a court order.
Typically, there will be fines involved with a stalking charge that could range anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000. However, fines and jail time are not the only way that a stalking charge will adversely affect someone. Stalking is a serious crime that will remain on their record and come back to stalk them when they apply for a job or try to obtain any kind of security clearance. In some cases, it may even appear when someone runs a credit check on them.
Although it can be difficult to prove, the common legal penalties for stalking can be harsh once someone is convicted. They can expect to pay significant fines and, in most cases, spend time in jail. In addition to those consequences, the crime of stalking will follow someone around on their record for life.
What type of behaviour is stalking?
Your behaviour can be stalking even if you do not think you are stalking another person.
It can be stalking if you are:
- following a person or
- hanging around (loitering) near where they work or live or
- you are repeatedly contacting a person or
- intimidating or harassing them or
- threatening or committing acts of violence against somebody.
It can be stalking even if it just happened once, or if it happened over a drawn out period or for a long time. For example following somebody for hours.
Does the other person have to be afraid?
It doesn’t matter that you didn’t intend to stalk the other person or that the other person wasn’t really intimidated, afraid or caused serious harm. If the behaviour is the sort of behaviour that would normally cause a person to feel that way or to suffer harm, then it is stalking.
When does the behaviour not amount to stalking?
If the behaviour is part of an industrial relations dispute, a political or genuine public dispute, related to public interest issues or legitimate business reasons then it’s not stalking.
What are the penalties for stalking?
The maximum penalty for stalking is five years imprisonment. But, in more serious cases e.g. where the stalker has used violence, has a weapon, breached a domestic violence order or another restraining order the maximum penalty is seven years imprisonment.
Even if you are not found guilty the judge or magistrate hearing the matter can still consider making a restraining order based on their own discretion or upon application by the prosecutor or interested person.
What can a person who is being stalked do?
If you are being stalked you can make a complaint to the police and if there is sufficient evidence, charges can be laid against the stalker. If the person accused of stalking does not admit to the offence you may be required to give evidence in court.
If the suspected stalker is:
- a current or former spouse or defacto partner
- a relative by blood or marriage
- someone in an intimate personal relationship; or
- an informal care relationship
you can get legal advice about a domestic violence order.
In other cases, if the stalking behaviour includes violence, threats of violence, damage to property or threats of damage to property, get legal advice about a peace and good behaviour order.