While everyone knows that stalking is a crime, few realize that it can be a felony or a misdemeanor (and in some cases, the accused might be charged with both a felony and a misdemeanor).
Every single state has stalking laws. While the nuances of stalking laws vary from one state to another, for the most part, each state has the same description of what can be considered stalking. As a rule, any behavior that can be considered prolonged harassment, an obvious attempt to frighten someone, the unwanted monitoring of a person, using proximity to threaten a person or actions that lead to emotional distress is covered by stalking laws.
Anyone who engages in the following types of behavior will likely be charged and convicted of stalking in California:
- Going out of your way to follow a person.
- Frequently showing up at locations where you know a specific person will be.
- Using GPS to monitor a person’s movements.
- Constantly filming/photographing someone without their permission.
- Obsessively monitoring someone’s social media accounts, phone calls/texts, reading their emails and studying their computer activities.
- Going out of your way to gather as much information as you can about a specific person.
- Leveling threats against a person or their loved ones (including pets) if they don’t spend time with you.
- Instigating property damage.
- Sending gifts and other forms of communication after you’ve been told to stop doing so.
The exact punishment a person receives following a stalking conviction in California often varies from one case to the next. When handing down a sentence, the judge looks at a variety of factors, including:
- Your criminal history.
- The type/intensity of the stalking episodes.
- If the victim had a protective order that you ignored.
- If anyone was hurt because of your actions.
The sentence for a misdemeanor stalking conviction can include spending a maximum of one year in county jail and being required to pay a fine that doesn’t exceed $1,000. In most cases, you’ll also be told that you’re legally required to stay away from your victim and that you’re also not allowed to contact them.
The sentence for a felony stalking conviction in California can include spending three years in state prison. If you have prior stalking convictions on your record, you could be sentenced to five years in prison.
While it’s true that it can sometimes be difficult to determine when stalking crosses the line from a misdemeanor and becomes a felony, the general rule of thumb is that anything that seems more intense than a simple harassment will likely be considered a case of felony stalking.