Philadelphia Harassment and Stalking Defense Lawyer
Harassment and stalking are related but separate crimes under Pennsylvania law. Both are serious offenses capable of leading to jail time, fines, restitution, and other penalties. If you or one of your family members has been arrested and charged with stalking or harassment, it is vital to work with a skilled defense attorney who can guide you through Philadelphia’s complicated criminal justice system, protect your constitutional rights from being violated, and fight strategically to reduce your penalties, have your case dismissed, or demonstrate your innocence.
Criminal lawyer Lloyd Long, former prosecutor and founding attorney at the Law Office of Lloyd Long, handles felony and misdemeanor stalking charges and harassment charges on behalf of adults and juveniles throughout the Philadelphia region.
How Are Stalking and Harassment Legally Defined?
While there are federal laws prohibiting stalking and harassment, most criminal cases involving these offenses are prosecuted at the state level. In Pennsylvania, harassment is legally defined under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2709(a), while Pennsylvania’s legal definition of stalking is located at 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2709.1(a).
Harassment (18 Pa. Cons. Stat. 2709)
Each component of a crime’s definition is called an “element of the offense.” For you to be convicted of harassment, the prosecutor must use evidence to prove that your actions and intentions fit each element of the offense. There are two elements of a harassment offense:
- You acted “with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another” person.
- You took any of the following actions:
- Communicated to or about another person using “lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings or caricatures.”
- Engaged in a “course of conduct” without a legitimate reason for doing so. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2709(f) defines a “course of conduct” as a “pattern of actions composed of more than one act over a period of time, however short,” showing a pattern of behavior.
- Followed someone in or around a public place.
- Hit, shoved, kicked, or otherwise had physical contact with another person (or attempted to do so).
- Repeatedly communicated with another person anonymously and/or “at extremely inconvenient hours” (such as repeatedly calling in the middle of the night).
Stalking (18 Pa. Cons. Stat. 2709.1)
The elements of a stalking charge in Pennsylvania are that:
- You acted with “intent to place [another] person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress to [that] person.”
- You engaged in a course of conduct, or repeatedly committed certain acts toward the person (including following the person), or repeatedly communicated to the person.
In other words, a person commits stalking when he or she repeatedly follows, calls, texts, emails, or otherwise acts toward the victim, in a way that would be interpreted as threatening or distressing by a reasonable person.
What Are the Penalties for Harassment and Stalking?
A conviction related to stalking or harassment can result in fines, jail or prison time, probation, and other consequences. While most stalking charges and harassment charges in Philadelphia are misdemeanors, there are also situations where you risk being charged with a felony.
PA Harassment Penalties
The penalty for a crime depends on how that crime is classified. For example, a second degree felony carries greater penalties than a third degree felony. A crime can be a summary offense, ungraded misdemeanor, third degree misdemeanor, second degree misdemeanor, first degree misdemeanor, third degree felony, second degree felony, or first degree felony.
Harassment can be categorized as a summary offense or third degree misdemeanor, depending on the specific details of the case. If a summary offense, harassment penalties could include:
- Up to 90 days (3 months) in jail
- Up to $300 in fines
When harassment is a third degree misdemeanor, penalties could include:
- Up to 1 year in jail
- Up to $2,000 in fines
Harassment charges can be elevated by one level – for example, a third degree misdemeanor could turn into a more serious second degree misdemeanor – if you have previously violated a restraining order “involving the same victim, family or household member.” That means you will face greater potential penalties. The penalties for a second degree misdemeanor could include:
- Up to 2 years in prison
- Up to $5,000 in fines
PA Stalking Penalties
Stalking is a more serious crime than harassment, and therefore has more severe consequences. Stalking is generally a first degree misdemeanor, which is the most serious type of misdemeanor charge, but can even be a third degree felony depending on your criminal record. Stalking is a third degree felony if either of the following is true:
- It is your second stalking offense (you have one prior stalking conviction).
- You have previously been convicted of any of the following crimes against “the same victim, family or household member” as the current charge:
The penalties for a first degree misdemeanor could include:
- Up to 5 years in prison
- Up to $10,000 in fines
The penalties for felonies are even more devastating. For a third degree felony, you may be facing consequences that include:
- Up to 7 years in prison
- Up to $15,000 in fines
Philadelphia, PA Stalking and Harassment Charges Defense Attorney
Both felony and misdemeanor convictions will give you a criminal record, which can make it difficult or impossible to get hired, purchase a firearm, enlist in the military, or pursue other opportunities. You may also be facing incarceration, expensive fines, restitution, probation, and other costly and embarrassing consequences that deprive you of freedom and damage your reputation.
The most effective way to protect your rights is to hire an aggressive, experienced harassment attorney or stalking attorney who will work tirelessly to preserve your liberty and minimize the damage resulting from the allegations. For a free legal consultation concerning harassment or stalking charges in Philadelphia, or the recent arrest of a family member, contact the Law Office of Lloyd Long at (215) 666-0381 right away.