Threats can determine if actions are criminal 

Today’s message comes from Trisha T. from Pacific Heights, who asks:

Q: “I recently started a romantic relationship with a man who I care for very much. We get along great, but the problem is that his ex is a real psycho who hates that I am with him and that he is happy. I started hanging out with my now-boyfriend while we were just friends who worked together in the same industry. We would go to various trade shows and industry events but, although an obvious attraction grew between us, we never acted on it because he was with this other woman. Finally, when he broke up with her, she, knowing that we had been at these events together, has been harassing me and threatening me on Facebook, in emails, trying to get into my linked account, texting me and leaving voicemails. She calls me a whore and accuses me of stealing her boyfriend because she believes we were romantically involved before they broke up. I feel like I am being stalked and I am scared of her. Can I have her arrested?”

A: Trisha, this question reads like a Dear Abby inquiry and while I don’t usually give relationship advice, your question about stalking has an answer in the law.

You have asked about criminal actions for stalking, so I will discuss that this week. Next week, I will talk about what remedies are available through the civil justice system.

The California Penal Code Section 6496 on stalking provides the criminal definition of stalking and prescribes what penalties a stalker may face. Section 6496 states that a person is guilty of stalking when they willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follow, or willfully and maliciously harass, another person, and make 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.

What is critical here is that there are three distinct elements to the crime: 1) the conduct must be malicious and/or repeated following or harassing; 2) they must make a credible threat; and 3) they must have the intent to place the person who they are stalking in a reasonable fear for their own safety or the safety of their family.

Section 6496 also contains definitions used to interpret the statute. Harasses means engages in a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes the person, and that serves no legitimate purpose. Course of conduct means two or more acts occurring over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of purpose. Constitutionally protected activity is not included within the meaning of course of conduct.

Credible threat means a verbal or written threat, including that performed through the use of an electronic communication device, or a threat implied by a pattern of conduct or a combination of verbal, written, or electronically communicated statements and conduct, made with the intent to place the person who is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family, and made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat so as to cause the person who is the target of the threat to reasonably fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family. It is not necessary to prove that the defendant had the intent to actually carry out the threat.

The penalty for this crime is punishment by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than $1,000, or by both that fine and imprisonment, or by imprisonment in the state prison. Depending on the type of conduct, the person may also have to register as a sex offender. Subsequent offenses can lead to a sentence of up to five years in prison.

Unfortunately I cannot answer your question completely because you have not specified if there has been any credible threat of violence. Regardless, I suggest that you take the information you have to the police. They may say that there is nothing that they can do because there has been no threat of violence and suggest that it is a civil matter. Sometimes they may just make a phone call, or go by the person’s home, make an inquiry and that may be enough to get them to stop. I will provide additional information on civil (noncriminal) legal remedies next week. I hope it all works out for you.

Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to help@dolanlawfirm.com.

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