As if out of a Hollywood tv show, Seattle PD say that student assault and harassment is the latest ongoing problem in West Seattle. As a result, additional police patrols were put in areas frequented by children and students, which include routes typically used to get to school. Stalking, cyber-stalking, harassment, and bullying are all similar bad acts. Sometimes it can be the result of a misunderstanding or vindictive accuser. Other times, it is also not uncommon for spouses dealing with divorce to start accusing each other of stalking or harassment. In order to be convicted of these crimes, the government must prove the elements of each crime beyond a reasonable doubt. However, whether found guilty or not, being accused of stalking or harassment can easily ruin your reputation.
Stalking is a gross misdemeanor or felony
Stalking can be either a felony or a gross misdemeanor in Washington State. It is similar to the charge of harassment, which is why it is not uncommon for both charges to be filed. However, it can be difficult to prove.
A person is guilty of misdemeanor stalking if: 1) s/he intentionally harasses or follows someone on more than one occasion; 2) the victim had a reasonable fear that the defendant would harm them or their property; 3) the defendant knew or should have known his behavior was creating fear or intimidation, even if it was not the intent to. The key component is that the victim must have had a "reasonable fear." This means it is an affirmative defense your accuser could not have reasonably feared for his or her safety. Misdemeanor stalking is a gross misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. See RCW 9a.46.110.
Felony stalking occurs when:
1. there has been a prior conviction for harassing the victim or family members;
2. the stalking violates a protection order that protects the victim;
3. the defendant has a prior conviction for stalking another person.
4. the defendant was in possession of a deadly weapon during the stalking
5. the victim's job is related to law enforcement and the stalking was done in retaliation for carrying out the job duties
6. the stalking is done in retaliation of the victim's witness testimony in a court proceeding.
A conviction of felony stalking is a Class C felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. See RCW 9a.46.110.
If you have a current or past romantic relationship with the accuser, a domestic relationship will be established and the crime will have a domestic violence designation (even without accusations of physical violence). This will further complicate things and you may face additional charges for domestic violence.
Harassment by itself is a also a gross misdemeanor or felony
A person is guilty of harassment if s/he knowingly:
- Knowingly threatens to injure the victim;
- physically damages the property of his or her victim;
- physically confines the victim
- maliciously harms the victim, both physically or emotionally.
Like stalking, the key requirement is that the victim must have had a "reasonable fear" for his or her safety so it is an affirmative defense if the victim cannot show s/he reasonably feared for his or her safety.
RCW 9.61.260 covers the act of "cyber stalking," which is the act of stalking done through electronic communication. Like stalking, it is not always clear, although there is an argument to be made that you leave more of a "paper trail" if you are sending something online. In order to be guilty of cyber stalking, you must have intended to harass, intimidate, torment or embarrass another person through an electronic communication (email, text, chat, etc.):
- using lewd, indecent or obscene words or images or language;
- threatening to inflict injury on the person or their property or any ember of their family or household;
- this can be done anonymously.
Cyberstalking is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail for a first offense, but if it involves threats to kill another person or if the person has a prior conviction for harassing the same victim in the past, it is a Class C felony punishable by up to 5 years in jail.
Bullying and Harassment In Schools
The law is constantly changing. Just as how cyberstalking or cyberbullying were not known problems twenty years ago, state legislatures are increasingly cracking down on these acts and making them crimes via the state law process. In 2010, the Washington state Legislature passed Substitute House Bill 2801, a Washington State law which prohibits harassment, intimidation, or bullying (HIB) in our schools. Schools are required to take action if students report they are being bullied or harassed, and since August 2011 all schools in Washington have been required to adopt an anti-bullying policy.
RCW 28A.300.285defines harassment, intimidation or bullying as "any intentionally written message or image—including those that are electronically transmitted ['cyberbullying']—verbal, or physical act, including but not limited to one shown to be motivated by race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, including gender expression or identity" or disabililty.
Juveniles that are found guilty of harassment or bullying may face legal consequences, along with schools that fail to take action.
“Let My Extensive Experience as a Former Prosecutor Work For You."
The Law Office of Steve Karimi is dedicated to protecting the freedom and reputation of each of his clients. As a former prosecutor for the state of Washington, he will handle everything in your case with detail and zeal, including all steps necessary to build your defense, and to keep you out of jail. Mr. Karimi handles all misdemeanor and felony cases including charges of stalking, harassment, bullying, and domestic violence. While stalking and harassment accusations can be over-exaggerated, being accused of such a crime can ruin your life and reputation forever. A good defense lawyer will be able to disprove that your committed all the elements of a stalking crime (ie. repeatedly following the victim). Contact Snohomish and King County criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi today for a free and confidential consultation.