Can You Go to Jail for Stalking in California?
Given the fact that over 85% of Americans have a smartphone today, it’s no surprise that criminal law is a highly complex legal area. Global internet usage has opened a floodgate for misunderstandings, false accusations, and a surge in digital evidence, making the need for a strong defense more imperative than ever.
Unfortunately, stalking is a commonly misunderstood crime that can result in harsh consequences for well-meaning people. If you’ve been accused of stalking in California, the rest of your life may very well hang in the balance.
To avoid a life-altering conviction, it’s crucial to consult with a skilled stalking defense attorney who can strengthen your case with relevant evidence and fight to reduce or dismiss the charges against you. Keep reading to learn more about stalking offenses in California.
What Constitutes Stalking in California?
According to California Penal Code (CPC) §646.9, stalking is defined as:
- Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses another person; and
- Makes a credible threat with the intent of making that person reasonably fear for their safety and/or the safety of their immediate family.
Is Stalking a Felony?
In California, stalking is known as a “wobbler." This means that stalking charges can result in either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances of the case.
The penalties of a misdemeanor conviction for stalking include:
- Up to 1 year of imprisonment; and/or
- Up to a $1,000 fine.
What Factors Enhance Penalties of a Stalking Conviction?
Numerous factors can lead to a felony conviction for stalking in California. When charged with a stalking offense, the following circumstances will almost always result in a felony charge:
- The defendant violated a restraining order.
- The defendant has been charged with stalking before.
- The defendant has a criminal history of domestic violence.
Stalking often goes hand in hand with domestic violence. In California, domestic violence charges entail harming or threatening to harm a current or former spouse, cohabitant, co-parent, or domestic partner. In some cases, the list extends to family members, such as parents, children, and relatives.
While it’s possible to be charged with stalking and not domestic violence (or vice versa), stalking is commonly linked to acts of violence, abuse, or harassment against a partner or family member.
If the defendant has a prior history of domestic abuse or a related crime, the stakes of a stalking charge are significantly heightened, as penalties will likely be enhanced if the case results in a conviction.
Penalties of a Felony Stalking Conviction
A felony conviction for stalking without enhancement—meaning there is a lack of extenuating circumstances that warrant increased penalties, such as prior stalking charges, domestic abuse, or restraining order violations—is punishable by:
- Up to 3 years in prison; and/or
- Up to a $10,000 fine.
What must the prosecution prove to convict someone of stalking?
While it can be nerve-racking to be a defendant in criminal court, keep in mind that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. This means that the burden of proof—the responsibility to show that the crime was committed "beyond a reasonable doubt"—lies with the prosecution.
To successfully convict the defendant of stalking, the prosecution must prove that:
- The defendant willfully and maliciously harassed the person; or
- The defendant willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly followed the person; and
- The defendant made a credible threat against the person with the intent of instilling reasonable fear for their safety or the safety of their immediate family.
In other words, it’s up to the prosecution to show that you repeatedly harassed and/or followed the victim and made threats against them with the intent to instill fear. If there is insufficient evidence to show that the defendant meets these specific criteria, the offense does not qualify as stalking and will not result in a conviction.
How to Defend Against Stalking Charges in California
There are various ways to defend against stalking charges in California. However, establishing the appropriate strategy to employ in criminal court is greatly dependent on the circumstances of the case and the defendant’s criminal history.
Consider these common defenses against stalking charges in California:
- There was no credible threat. California law clearly states that a stalking conviction is only warranted if the defendant made a credible threat against the victim. If there was no threat or the threat wasn’t serious, this may be an apt strategy to employ in your defense.
- There was no intent to cause fear. Another key requirement to warrant a stalking conviction is an intent to cause fear. The defendant may argue that, while a threat may have been made, it was not made with the intention of invoking reasonable fear in the alleged victim.
- The act was a constitutionally protected activity. A person is not guilty of stalking if the act in question was a constitutionally protected right. For example, lawful protesting is permitted in the United States. If the defendant can present sufficient evidence to show that the alleged offense wasn’t a crime, but an activity they had the right to engage in, they can succeed in reducing or dismissing stalking charges.
While all legal proceedings are to be taken seriously, criminal defense is a particularly harsh area of the law, as one misstep can easily cost you your freedom and future.
This is why it’s essential to seek skilled legal representation when accused of a crime, as a solid defense can make the difference between years of imprisonment or walking free. A trusted defense attorney can help establish the most effective legal strategy to pursue on your behalf and help guide your steps to avoid detrimental mistakes.
Contact the Bay Area’s Top Defense Attorney Today
At the Law Office of Nabiel C. Ahmed, we believe that every accused American deserves the strongest defense possible in court. Whether the charges against you are completely undeserved or you had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, our firm is here to fight aggressively for your future and restore your freedom.
Our nationally recognized Oakland criminal defense lawyer has extensive experience pursuing justice on behalf of his clients. From drug crimes to DUI defense to vehicular offenses, our legal team has a proven track record of successfully representing clients throughout the Bay Area. If you’ve been charged with a crime, no matter how slight it may seem, it’s imperative to turn to a criminal defense attorney you can trust.
If you’ve been charged with a crime in California, you deserve aggressive defense in court from start to finish. Our firm can help restore your freedom. Call (510) 907-6600 to request a consultation.