Anti-stalking laws were first enacted by the California Legislature in 1990 as a response to two high-profile celebrity stalking incidents. The first incident was the stabbing of actress Theresa Saldana, and the second was the murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer. These two cases resulted in the creation of Penal Code 646.9 which states, in part, that:
“Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or willfully and maliciously harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family is guilty of the crime of stalking…”
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Penalties of a stalking conviction
Under California Law, the crime of stalking is considered a “wobbler,” meaning that it can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. The severity of the charge will vary depending on your personal criminal history and the context of the case itself.
A misdemeanor charge of stalking is punishable by up to one year of imprisonment in a county, a fine of no more than $1,000, or by a combination of the fine and imprisonment. If you are charged with felony stalking and found guilty, you can be sentenced to two, three, or five years in a state penitentiary.
Under California Penal Code Section 290, a person convicted of stalking may also be required to register as a sex offender.
Is cyberstalking a crime in California?
Now that electronic communication is so prevalent in our daily lives, many states have updated their stalking laws to include cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is any form of stalking – that is, the intimidation, harassment or bullying of an individual – that is done using an electronic medium such as the Internet, e-mail, text messages or even the telephone.
One of the very first stalking cases in California occurred in 1999 and involved a man in North Hollywood who was accused of using the internet to arrange for a woman to be sexually assaulted by posting sexually suggestive online ads that revealed the woman’s address.
Other examples of cyberstalking include sending unwanted, threatening messages and/or harassing emails directly to a person and deliberate posting embarrassing, explicit, or humiliating information about someone online without their consent.
Penalties for cyberstalking in California
Like regular stalking, cyberstalking can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. It all depends on the defendant’s criminal history along with the facts of their case.
Misdemeanor cyberstalking could result in one year of jail time plus a fine of up to $1000. A felony charge of cyberstalking could result in a sentence of five years in a state prison plus fines of up to $1,000. Again, depending on the defendant’s history and the nature of the crime, you can also face domestic violence charges or be required to register as a sex offender.
How do I fight a stalking, cyberstalking, or harassment charge?
If you have been charged with the crime of stalking and/or cyberstalking, it is of the utmost importance that your first step be to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer in California to fight on your behalf. An expert criminal defense attorney like Robert Helfend will be able to examine your unique situation and present a number of possible defenses such as mistaken identity or the lack of a credible threat. In today’s day and age, it can be all too easy for a simple disagreement or misunderstanding to result in serious criminal charges against an innocent citizen. If you or someone you love has been accused of stalking or cyberstalking, don’t hesitate to contact us today to discuss your case.