Understanding Misdemeanor Stalking Charges in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, stalking is a serious criminal offense. In many cases, it is an offense that occurs in tandem with or as a precursor to violent crimes and domestic violence. As a result, both judges and district attorneys can view a stalking charge as a chance to intervene in risky situations that could lead to violence without judicial intervention. Often, the result of this philosophy is harsh sentences for stalking offenders.
An experienced Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer like Lauren Wimmer can help you fight misdemeanor stalking charges. Ms. Wimmer will review and assess the totality of your circumstances to determine what your next move should be. In some cases, it might be advisable to pursue a plea bargain or admission into a pre-trial diversion program. In others, your best course of action may be to defend your case in court. Call us today to schedule your free consultation to learn more about your legal options.
How Pennsylvania Law Defines Misdemeanor Stalking
Stalking is not a one-time incident. Under Pennsylvania law, it is a series of at least two occurrences directed toward a specific individual with the purpose of causing them mental anguish, fear of bodily injury, or emotional distress.
Examples of patterns of behavior that can lead to a stalking charge include:
- Following someone
- Verbally or physically threatening a specific individual
- Coming to an individual’s home, school, work, or another location uninvited
- Making unwanted phone calls, or sending text messages or emails to the individual
- Leaving messages on an answering machine
- Sending unwanted gifts, letters, or cards
- Damaging a person’s home, car, or other property
- Monitoring someone’s phone calls or computer use
- Using technology (cameras, GPS) to track someone’s location or activities
- Threatening to hurt a person’s family, friends, or pets
- Contacting someone’s family, friends, coworkers, or neighbors
- Going through someone’s garbage
- Lying about a person
- Manipulating someone with threats to harm yourself if they do not comply with your requests
In many cases, a first offense of stalking is a first-degree misdemeanor charge.
Can Misdemeanor Stalking Become a Felony?
In some situations, your stalking charges can escalate from a first-degree misdemeanor to a felony charge. If these circumstances apply to you, you should retain a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney to help you get your charges reduced or defend you in court.
Repeat offenders can be charged with a third-degree felony, and a conviction in Pennsylvania includes between three and a half to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
Other factors that can escalate your misdemeanor stalking charge:
- If you are an adult and the person you are accused of stalking is underage
- If you violated an existing restraining order or no-contact order
- The person you are accused of stalking is elderly
- You threatened the individual with serious injury or death
- You caused physical harm to the person you are accused of stalking
- You had possession of a deadly weapon at the time of the incident
Who Can File Stalking Charges Against You?
Stalking is a criminal offense. Although the individual accusing you of stalking likely made the report to law enforcement, it is district attorney’s (DA) office who determines if you will face charges or not. Even if the individual who accused you decides they want the charges dropped, the decision still rests with the DA’s office.
Consequences for Misdemeanor Stalking
Stalking is a serious crime for which you can face equally serious consequences if you are convicted. Pennsylvania law classifies stalking as a first-degree misdemeanor. Crimes in this category are punishable with as much as $10,000 in fines and up to five years in prison.
In addition, just being arrested can lead to consequences such as financial stress and problems with your current or future employers. Not only can a criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia work to get your charges dismissed or reduced, but they might also be able to get your arrest record expunged.
What is a Protective Order?
A protection from abuse order or PFA, also known as a restraining order, is an order from a judge requiring you to stay a minimum distance away from the person you are accused of stalking. This means you must stay away from their home, their place of employment, or other places that they frequent. A protective order can also prohibit you from contacting the individual by means such as mail, internet, or phone.
Even if you plan to fight your stalking charges, you still must obey a protective order while it is in place. Violating it is contempt of court for which you may have to pay significant fines and risk incarceration.
What to Do If You Are Being Investigated for Stalking
If you know or suspect that you are being investigated by law enforcement for stalking, you need to act as soon as possible. Your top priority should be to find a criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia with a successful track record of defending clients who are charged with this offense. Your lawyer will likely ask you questions about the circumstances surrounding your investigation. Your attorney will need to know about the case, such as who the individual is that you are allegedly stalking and what your relationship is to that person.
While under investigation, you should be sure not to:
- Attempt to speak to the individual about the case or have any contact with the individual
- Speak to law enforcement or other investigators without your attorney present
- Provide any evidence to law enforcement without talking to your lawyer first—even if you believe the evidence will show you are not guilty stalking
If you are ultimately arrested on misdemeanor stalking charges, already having legal representation will help protect you and may lead to a better outcome in your case.
Call a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney You Can Trust
Being investigated or charged with misdemeanor stalking is something you should never deal with alone. You need attorney Lauren Wimmer on your side to defend your good name and your rights. Ready to schedule your legal consultation? Call Wimmer Criminal Defense Law today at 215-712-1212 or use our convenient online contact form.