Stalking laws in our state are some of the stringiest in the country because they criminalize some behaviors you may never think were unlawful. Although this offense is often chargeable in connection with domestic violence cases, it can apply in other situations involving strangers or people you don't know.
If you are under investigation or in police custody for an alleged stalking offense, consulting an experienced and credible defense attorney is a move you cannot regret. Aggressive and profound attorneys at Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm are ready to pick your call if you're in trouble with the law for an alleged stalking charge.
Before you speak to anyone about the alleged stalking charge against you, it is wise to speak with a skilled attorney to represent your interest and help you fight for acquittal of the charge or a lesser severe charge.
Understanding Stalking Offense Under Penal Code 646.9
In an attempt to protect and keep citizens safe, lawmakers put anti-stalking laws into effect in 1990 after the murder of a high-profile celebrity and actress, Rebecca Schaeffer. Under Penal Code 646.9, stalking is a clear pattern of conduct or behavior that involves following, threatening, or harassing another person in a way that puts him/her or his/her family in reasonable fear for their safety.
The victim of this offense could be a celebrity, acquaintance, stranger, former or current fiancé, or any other person. Nowadays, social media and advanced technology that allows us to know a person's location make it easy to stalk someone.
However, most people are unaware that this invasive behavior can attract a severe criminal charge when it becomes persistent to the extent of putting the victim in reasonable fear for his/her safety or health.
As mentioned earlier, stalking is a crime that often involves domestic violence cases or familial relationships. For instance, following your boyfriend or husband closely after a break-up, divorce, or child custody dispute because you want to be "even" with him will count as stalking under PC 646.9, which is a very severe domestic violence offense.
Here are a few other suspicious behaviors or conduct that could make you subject to a stalking charge under this statute:
- Vandalizing your ex-boyfriend or his immediate relative's property maliciously
- Repeatedly making visits to your ex-boyfriend or wife's business or home after a break-up
- Repeatedly sending threatening messages to your ex-wife after divorce via electronic means, like social media
- Repeatedly and persistently making phone calls to your ex-girlfriend current boyfriend or husband to intimidate or threaten him.
- Reporting your ex-husband's home to law enforcement officers as a target scene for a crime, also legally known as "swatting."
A conviction for the offense of stalking under PC 646.9 can make you subject to unbearable and severe penalties. To protect your interest during the prosecution process for an alleged PC 646.9 violation, you should retain the services of an experienced attorney who understands the nature of this crime in the eyes of the law.
Court Proceedings/Hearings to Anticipate Following an Arrest for a Stalking Charge
Although the criminal court case process may differ from one defendant to the other, most cases will follow the stages explained below:
The Bail/Arraignment Stage
The arraignment hearing is typically the initial court proceeding you will attend once the prosecutor files the alleged stalking charge against you. You should expect this hearing within less than 48 hours as long as the arrest didn't happen on the weekend. If you are under arrest on a weekend, you will have to wait for the subsequent court day.
At this proceeding, whether the alleged stalking charge against you is a misdemeanor or a felony, the court must advise you of some of your legal rights and inform you of the alleged offense against you. If the alleged stalking charge against you is a misdemeanor offense, this will be your opportunity to let the court know the plea of your choice. You have the following plea options:
- No contest
- Not guilty
In this situation, most defense attorneys who are confident in their quality of services will advise you to choose a plea of "not guilty" to counter the alleged stalking charge at trial aggressively. After choosing your plea of choice, the court will hold a bail hearing almost immediately. The purpose of this proceeding is to evaluate whether you can secure your freedom on bail or not.
If you aren't likely to free the area and you aren't a threat to the victim of this offense, the judge may allow you post bail to receive your freedom, pending the trial hearing. Unfortunately, if the court considers you a threat to the victim, you will remain in the detention hall with other offenders before trial.
Pretrial Hearing Stage
During this second phase of the criminal justice system, the prosecutor presiding over your alleged stalking charge will trade his or her evidence with your defense attorney through a legal process known as discovery. The main reason for holding this proceeding is to evaluate and determine the admissibility of the prosecutor's stalking evidence against you.
That means, if the prosecutor had intentions of using some illegal evidence against you during the trial, your defense attorney has a chance to point it out during this hearing. Your defense attorney can challenge the prosecutor wittingly to determine whether the eyewitness statements he/she has against you are legit or not.
If your attorney discovers a piece of illegal evidence against you, he/she will use it to weaken the prosecutor's stalking charge against you for a less severe charge or dismissal of the charge. It is possible to resolve the alleged charge against you at this phase without going to the subsequent court stage, known as the trial.
The trial is the most uncertain stage of the criminal court process. At this hearing, the judge or a team of jurors will examine the alleged stalking evidence against you to determine whether you are guilty of PC 646.9 violation or not. However, it is on you to decide whether or not you want a judge or a team of jurors to make your case's judgment.
At this hearing, the judge or jury will be ready to listen to the prosecutor's stalking evidence against you and your defense attorney's counteractive arguments to determine the case's verdict or judgment.
The prosecutor presiding over your case should be ready to prove to a judge that the stalking allegations you are up against are true beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you for PC 646.9 violation. To do that, he/she must prove each element of the crime in this charge, including:
- You did follow the alleged victim maliciously and willingly
- You did harass or threaten the alleged victim maliciously and willingly (electronically, verbally, or by writing)
- The alleged threats were credible enough to make the victim or accuser sustain reasonable fear for the safety of his/her life.
While the prosecutor is proving his/her arguments to the jury, your defense attorney should be attentive to point out weaknesses in his/her case to plan and prepare the best counteractive strategies or defenses.
If your attorney can convince the jurors or the judge that the prosecutor's evidence against you is insufficient, he/she may drop or reduce the alleged stalking charge against you to a less severe charge. If not, you will be guilty of the charge, and your stalking case will move to the sentencing stage to know your punishment.
After conviction for PC 646.9 violation, the court will decide the suitable and fair sentence for your offense at this stage of the criminal justice system. The judge will listen to mitigating arguments from your attorney and aggravating arguments from the prosecutor to decide a fair and suitable punishment for your offense.
Penalties You Might be Subject to for PC 646.9 Violation
Since stalking is a wobbler offense, the prosecutor has the authority to file your charge as either a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor conviction for PC 646.9 violation will make subject to:
- A maximum fine amounting up to $1,000
- Custody in the county jail for one (1) year
- Misdemeanor probation
On the other hand, a felony stalking charge conviction will attract the following penalties:
- Felony/formal probation
- Detention in the county jail for up to five (5) years
- A fine not exceeding $1,000
Remember, a charge for violating stalking laws under PC 646.9 will always be a felony under the following circumstances:
- You have a history of PC 646.9 violation
- You had to violate a restraining/protective order to commit the alleged stalking offense
Apart from these detrimental consequences, the victim of this stalking offense may file a civil lawsuit against you to recover compensatory damages or punitive damages.
Other Possible Detrimental Consequences You Might Face Following a Conviction for PC 646.9 Violation
A conviction for PC 646.9 violation will also attract other detrimental and life-changing consequences, including:
Negative Immigration Repercussions
As a non-citizen, a conviction for a stalking charge under PC 646.9 can also make you subject to negative immigration repercussions under the immigration law since it is a crime involving moral turpitude. Depending on the unique facts of the alleged charge against you, a conviction for PC 646.9 can make you subject to deportation or inadmissibility repercussions.
Being inadmissible is a life-changing consequence of this offense conviction because you will not re-enter the country after deportation or apply for permanent residency status, which can negatively affect several aspects of your everyday life.
A Strike Under the Three Strikes Law
According to PC 667, a defendant with a prior conviction record for any violent or severe felony offense should be subject to harsher penalties upon subsequent conviction for the same offense because it shows you are a notorious offender.
Since stalking counts as a strike under this statute, if you have a past conviction record for stalking, your second conviction will lead to double the maximum standard punishment for this crime.
However, if you have two prior strikes or convictions, you will be subject to harsher penalties upon your third conviction for the same offense. In this context, you could be subject to an incarceration term ranging from 25 years to life in the state prison.
Loss of Your Legal Right to Own or Possess a Firearm
As you might be aware, a conviction for any felony offense comes with negative consequences on your rights to possess or own any firearm or ammunition. A felony conviction for a stalking charge under PC 646.9 will result in revocation of your rights to possess or own a gun because you are dangerous to the community's safety in the eyes of the court.
Inclusion in the Sex Offender Registry
If the circumstances surrounding the stalking charge against you involve sexual coercion or gratification, a conviction will also lead to inclusion in the sex offender registry. According to PC 290, inclusion in this registry will require you to register as a sex offender for a lifetime, and this will come with other negative consequences such as:
- You cannot live near a school or children playgrounds
- You have to make regular check-ins with your local law enforcement agency
- It is challenging to secure housing or reliable employment
Abide by Particular Restraining Orders
If you and the alleged victim of the stalking offense were in an intimate relationship, dating relationship, or were domestic partners, a conviction for PC 646.9 will attract some restraining orders. Under domestic violence laws, a restraining order is typically a court order that requires you to refrain from following, harassing, threatening, or contacting the alleged victim of this offense.
According to PC 273.6, it is also unlawful to violate the court-ordered conditions of the restraining order against you after a conviction for any domestic violence offense like stalking. If you are guilty of PC 273. 6 violation, you will be subject to a different misdemeanor charge punishable by:
- A maximum of one (1) year custody in the county jail
- A fine amounting to up $1,000
As mentioned above, although a stalking charge is not violent like most domestic violence offenses, a conviction will make you subject to life-altering consequences, which will affect your life's quality. To increase the possibility of fighting this detrimental charge, you should consider retaining a dedicated defense attorney's services to protect your best interests.
Applicable Legal Defenses for Countering a Stalking Charge Under PC 646.9
A diligent and skilled defense attorney will know the best defense tactics to apply to your unique stalking charge during the trial. Below are the most prevalent and viable defense strategies that may work out in your favor to reduce or dismiss the alleged stalking offense against you:
It is not uncommon for some people to maliciously and intentionally misuse protections under PC 646.9 to punish other innocent people for a crime they didn't commit. Lawmakers acknowledge that the alleged stalking charge against you could be due to false accusations if someone wants to strengthen his/her case against you, which is not uncommon in domestic violence cases like:
- Child custody fights
In this situation, your defense attorney may need the services of a private investigator to examine audio/video recordings or even conduct a DNA test on the alleged nasty letter received by the victim to prove you didn't commit the alleged offense.
Just like with false accusations, the alleged stalking charge against you could be due to mistaken identity. Although the victim did receive the alleged threats, he/she can misappropriate the blame to an innocent party.
The issue of mistaken identity is more likely to happen after a break-up or divorce where one party assumes the person repeatedly following him/her is automatically his/her former intimate partner. Your defense attorney can justify this defense strategy by providing evidence to show the judge that you were in another different location or county when someone was allegedly stalking the victim.
No Credible Threat
Remember, for you to be guilty of stalking the victim under PC 646.9, the alleged threat should be credible enough to make him/her reasonably fearful for his/her life or safety. Therefore, it would be reasonable to argue with proper evidence that the alleged threats were not credible enough to make the victim sustain fear for his/her life or safety.
The court would consider this defense argument reasonable if your defense attorney could prove that the alleged threats were a joke and you didn't have the motive to execute them.
Other Offenses Closely Related to Stalking Under PC 646.9
If it is impossible to prove your guilt under PC 646.9, most prosecutors will file a related offense with almost similar elements of the crime against you. Below are common crimes related to stalking charge under PC 646.9:
One of the offenses closely related to stalking is criminal threats under PC 422. Section 422 of the Penal Code makes it a crime to threaten or harass another individual or his/her immediate relative with criminal intent to make them sustain fear for their lives or safety. Here is are some examples of what the court would consider criminal threats under PC 422:
- While holding a pistol, you threaten to shoot another person
- Sending a text message or email to your ex-girlfriend or wife telling her you will put her house on fire
- Telling your colleague to watch his/her back after a confrontation or argument
To obtain a guilty verdict against you under PC 646., the prosecutor must prove particular elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning the criminal allegations against you are undoubtedly true. The elements of crime in a criminal threat charge include:
- You did threaten to injure or kill another person
- The alleged criminal threats were in writing, verbal, or via electronic communication means like social media
- You had the intent to threaten, meaning the victim had a reason to believe you were threatening him/her
- The alleged threat was clear and straight to the point
- The alleged victim, who could be your ex-wife, was actually in reasonable fear after receiving the threats
Like stalking, a criminal threat charge is punishable as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts and circumstantial evidence surrounding your case because it's a wobbler offense. Upon conviction for a misdemeanor criminal threat charge, you will be subject to the following potential penalties:
- A fine not exceeding $1,000
- One-year custody term in the county jail
However, if you are guilty of PC 422 violation as a felony, you will face the following possible penalties:
- A maximum prison term of three years
- A fine amounting to up to $ 10,000
You will be subject to an additional one-year consecutive term in prison if aggravating factors exist in the context of your case, for example, using a gun to communicate your threats.
Annoying Phone Calls
According to PC 655m, sending threatening, obscene, or annoying repetitive communications to another person against his or her will via phone call, email, text messages, or social media is unlawful. The prosecutor may file this charge against you because it is easier to prove its elements of crime in court than a stalking charge.
PC 655m violation is a misdemeanor, and a conviction will make you subject to six months custody in the county jail and a fine not exceeding $1,000. In some cases, instead of serving a term in prison, the court may sentence you to misdemeanor probation.
If you are the right candidate for misdemeanor probation, the court will require you to participate in a counseling session as part of the probation's condition.
Find a Riverside Defense Attorney Near Me
Seeking the services of a skilled defense attorney is vital if you or your loved one is in custody for an alleged stalking offense under PC 646.9. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your alleged stalking offense, a conviction will come with unbearable negative consequences.
We invite you to call Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm at 951-946-6366 to discuss your stalking case with our understanding and discreet attorneys. Our attorneys might negotiate and convince the prosecutor to dismiss or even reduce the alleged stalking charge against you to a less severe offense like annoying phone calls under Penal Code 653m.