Being charged with a crime in Philadelphia can make even the strongest of people feel as if their world is collapsing. Wimmer Criminal Defense, the preeminent criminal defense law firm in Philadelphia, has put together the below guide to help you become acquainted with some of the terms you may hear as you navigate the…
Harassment and Stalking Defense
If you or one of your family members was arrested and charged with stalking or harassment in Philadelphia, you urgently need legal help from an experienced harassment and stalking defense attorney. If you or your loved one is convicted of either offense, the consequences could include prison, fines, probation, and a criminal record. These penalties can create future problems when it comes to looking for jobs, loans, or housing opportunities.
When the stakes are high, you need experienced, aggressive criminal defense. It may be possible to have the charges reduced or dismissed. For a free and completely confidential legal consultation, contact criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer.
What is and isn’t Considered Harassment and Stalking in Pennsylvania
Though related, harassment and stalking are separate crimes in Pennsylvania. It is possible to be charged with one but not the other, or to be charged with both offenses.
Harassment is defined under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2709(a), while stalking is defined under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2709.1(a).
While stalking charges or harassment charges can arise from many situations, the defendant can be convicted only if the prosecution is able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant’s behavior fit every part of the crime’s legal definition. For a defendant to be convicted of stalking in Pennsylvania, the prosecutor must show that the defendant either:
- Took certain actions, called a “course of conduct,” that showed “either an intent to place [the victim] in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress.” This includes following someone around.
- Engaged in a course of conduct, or “repeatedly communicate[d] to another person,” in a way that expressed or demonstrated an “intent to place [the victim] in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress.”
Engaging in a “course of conduct” is one element of the offense, so it is important to understand its legal definition. A “course of conduct” is a “pattern of actions composed of more than one act over a period of time, however short.” That includes “lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings, caricatures or actions, either in person or anonymously.”
For a defendant to be convicted of harassment in Pennsylvania, the prosecutor must show that (1) the defendant acted “with intent to harass, annoy or alarm” another person, and (2) engaged in one or more of the following acts:
- “Strikes, shoves, kicks, or otherwise”, including attempts and threats to do so.
- Followed another person in or around one or more public places.
- “[E]ngage[d] in a course of conduct or repeatedly commit[ed] acts which serve[d] no legitimate purpose.”
- Communicated with or about another person using “lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings or caricatures.”
- Repeatedly and anonymously communicated with the other person, such as repeatedly making anonymous phone calls.
- Repeatedly communicated “at extremely inconvenient hours.”
- Repeatedly communicated in other ways.
The Penalties for Stalking and Harassment in Pennsylvania Can be Severe
Convictions for stalking and harassment can both result in serious consequences. While most defendants’ first concerns are fines and jail times, there can also be other negative repercussions of a criminal conviction. For example, you may be placed on probation or be required to pay restitution to the victim in addition to your criminal fines. You will also gain a criminal record, which can permanently harm your professional reputation and make it extremely difficult to get hired. The bottom line is that a conviction of either crime may permanently change your life. Our aggressive harassment and stalking defense increases the opportunity for reduced charges and a better outcome in your case.
In Pennsylvania, most crimes are categorized or “graded” as either felonies or misdemeanors. There are three sublevels within each of these categories:
- First, Second, and Third Degree Misdemeanors
- First, Second, and Third Degree Felonies
There are also crimes known as “summary offenses,” which are less serious than misdemeanors, but can still carry fines, jail time, and other penalties. Unlike misdemeanors and felonies, summary offenses are not split into different levels.
Punishments for Harassment
Under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2709(c)(1), harassment is generally charged as a summary offense. However, some forms of harassment, such as repeatedly communicating anonymously, are third degree misdemeanors. A related offense known as cyber harassment of a child, charged under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2709(a.1), is also a third degree misdemeanor.
The harassment statute contains a special provision that, under certain circumstances, increases the penalties. If the defendant previously violated a restraining order “involving the same victim, family or household member,” crimes that would normally be charged as summary offenses can be enhanced by one degree to a third degree misdemeanor. The following are the potential penalties for each level of harassment:
- Summary Offense Harassment
- » Sentence – Up to 90 days
- » Criminal Fine – Up to $300
- Third Degree Misdemeanor Harassment
- » Sentence – Up to 1 year
- » Criminal Fine – Up to $2,000
Punishments for Stalking
Under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2709.1(c)(1), a first-time stalking offense in Philadelphia is generally prosecuted as a first degree misdemeanor. However, under the next section in the same statute, stalking increases to a third degree felony if:
- It is the defendant’s second or subsequent offense; or
- The defendant “has been previously convicted of a crime of violence involving the same victim, family or household member.” This includes any of the following offenses:
- » Aggravated Assault
- » Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse
- » Kidnapping
- » Rape
- » Reckless Endangerment (Recklessly Endangering Another Person, REAP)
- » Restraining Order Violations
- » Simple Assault
The penalty for a first-time stalking offense in Philadelphia, or for multiple stalking offenses, may include the following:
- First Degree Misdemeanor Stalking (First Offense)
- » Sentence – Up to 5 years
- » Criminal Fine – Up to $10,000
- Third Degree Felony Stalking
- » Sentence – Up to 7 years
- » Criminal Fine – Up to $15,000
Contact an Aggressive Philadelphia Harassment and Stalking Attorney
If you are facing charges you need an aggressive Philadelphia harassment and stalking defense attorney. Contact Wimmer Criminal Defense or call for a free consultation at 215-712-1212 to learn more about how we can help to reduce the charges you actually face as well as reducing the short and long-term consequences.
If You were arrested for stalking, we Can Help
Lauren Wimmer has a history of successfully resolving felony, misdemeanor, and summary offense cases in Pennsylvania. For a free, confidential legal consultation, call today.