When an individual thinks of the idea of stalking, one conjures up images of “Fatal Attraction.” However, recent changes to New Jersey stalking laws criminalize acts far less nefarious than those portrayed on the big screen.In fact, one never has to make direct contact with another to be charged with the indictable felony offense of stalking.
Stalking can be charged as a crime of the third or fourth degree. Third degree crimes are punishable by up to 5 years in state prison and fourth degree crimes are punishable by up to 18 months in state prison.
A person can be found guilty of stalking (fourth degree) if he purposely or knowingly engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his safety or the safety of a third person or suffer emotional distress.
A course of conduct can be defined as repeatedly maintaining visual or physical proximity to a person (directly or indirectly) or through third parties by any action, including electronic. Course of conduct can also include repeated acts of harassment. Harassment is a similar offense to stalking, but does not rise to the same level as that contemplated by the stalking statute. However, there is a blurry line between the two offenses, since harassment typically involves more than one communication between parties and is basically a course of conduct in and of itself. Harassment, however, is a misdemeanor offense in all but a few circumstances.
Also, for a person to be guilty of fourth degree stalking, the alleged victim must reasonably fear for his safety or suffer emotional distress. However, the emotional distress element is very vague and is defined as significant mental suffering or distress. There will be a reasonable person standard applied to the emotional distress element as well.
Additionally, one must look to the definition of harassment to understand the statute since repeated act of harassment can be considered stalking for charging purposes.
The problem that I find with labeling an offense as stalking is that prosecutors, like normal people, have a certain idea of what stalking is. However, the types of activities that could potentially result in a stalking charge are not nearly as harmful as those most people would envision.
I have represented many clients charged with stalking. In many instance, and after persistent negotiations, I have convinced prosecutors that the charges don’t fit the conduct, or that the defendant has been “over charged” and the case should be remanded to the municipal court. In many cases, I have had the charges dismissed prior to trial or dismissed through other means.
Stalking can also be charged as a third degree if the alleged act of stalking is committed while an individual is on parole or probation or serving a term of imprisonment, or if the defendant has been convicted on a prior occasion of stalking, or the individual stalks a persons while being under a court order prohibiting him from doing the same.
The good news is that the statue is very vague and very unclear. For that reason, I have continually been able to argue that the facts of my client’s case have been misconstrued and boot strapped into a stalking offense. These uncertainties have caused the state rethink the prosecution and create trial proof uncertainties, resulting in good outcomes for my clients.
If you have been charged with stalking in New Jersey, please call me directly for a free consultations.