What action can I take against my stalker?

Q:

What actions can I take against my stalker?

A:

Before deciding what actions to take against a stalker, it’s important to understand the legal definition of stalking in your state. Stalking is a serious crime in all 50 states, and although the statutes may differ slightly, stalking is generally considered any pattern of action or behaviors that a person knowingly conducts, that a victim considers threatening, and that causes fear or generally would cause fear in another person.

Stalking can include common direct actions such as calling someone repeatedly, sending them unwanted gifts or following them. With the advent of electronic communication, stalking also now encompasses online communications that are unwanted, repeated and threatening; and that cause emotional distress and establish fear in the harassed person, or fear for the safety of their family.

Stalking can also include the violation of a court order that has been issued to prevent stalking. State laws differ, but stalking is generally considered a misdemeanor. However, in some cases, if additional aggravating factors exist (such as displaying a gun or having a prior conviction), stalking can be considered a felony.

Stalking is illegal, which means that if you are being stalked, you will have certain legal steps you can take to stop the stalker.

1. Review your state laws about stalking.

If you are being stalked, the first step is to review your state’s laws and understand what actions are considered stalking under the statutes. For example, in some states, stalking and harassment may have different legal definitions or may be combined under a general statute. Also, review interstate stalking laws, which are considered a federal crime.

2. Contact the police and file a police report.

If you feel like you are in danger or you have been physically threatened, contact the police and file a police report. If the police investigate and find your stalker has committed a crime, the stalker can be arrested criminally prosecuted for their actions.

3. Keep a log of every encounter with your stalker.

Gathering evidence is critical to winning a criminal case against your stalker. With this in mind, it’s important to gather information that can lead to a successful prosecution. Evidence can include all electronic communications such as emails, text messages, snap chats, tweets and Facebook posts. It can also include caller ID logs, phone records, letters received, and pictures or videos. If you have had to call the police, it’s important to keep note of all of the names of the officers, and the dates and times of the contact.

4. Consider getting a restraining or protection order.

If, after discussing the case with the police, you believe that you need a restraining order, contact an attorney. In some cases, a protection or restraining order can lead to additional violence, and it’s important to review your options prior to making this decision.

If you have completed step 3, you will have the documents necessary to support your case for a protection order, including transcripts of phone calls, notes or written threats, and pictures of property damage. Note that you may not be required to file a written police report prior to requesting a protection order. If you have filed one, however, you can attach the police report to the order application.

Violating a protection order can increase the severity of the harassment charge if the stalker is eventually convicted of a crime.

5. Request notification if your stalker is released from jail or prison.

If your stalker has been sent to prison or jail for stalking, you may also have the legal right to have the department of corrections in your state notify you if they have been released. For example, in the State of California, you have the right to be notified by mail or by phone 15 days prior to the release of your stalker. If your stalker was convicted of a felony stalking charge in California, they will also be required to register with the appropriate officials when they move to a city or county.

6. Consider filing a civil case against your stalker.

Although protective orders and aggressively pursuing a criminal case against your stalker is generally the first option to receive justice and protect yourself, filing a civil claim may be another option to hold stalkers liable for their crimes. Civil cases will not lead to criminal charges or jail time, but winning a civil case may provide you with financial compensation for the injuries that you have suffered as a result of their actions.

A civil case may also be easier to win because you must only win the case by proving your case through a preponderance of evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt. You may also file your claim even if no criminal charges are ever filed against your stalker. If you successfully win your case against your stalker, you may be entitled to damages for emotional distress and punitive damages, as well as compensation for attorney’s fees.

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Note: Stalking, for the purposes of this Q&A, excludes abuse and harassment in the form of domestic violence, elder or dependent adult abuse, and workplace violence. Additional laws and legal protections exist for these cases. If you are suffering from these abuses, talk to a lawyer to discuss the type of protections that may be available and what you will have to do to prove your case in court.

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Whether you're facing a legal issue or just seeking information, Justipedia aims to be your most trusted resource for legal information on the Web. With the help of legal professionals across the country, we put the law in plain language to help answer your top legal questions.

Justipedia was founded by Internet veterans Cory Janssen and Mitchell Allen. Janssen founded Investopedia.com and grew it one of the largest investing sites on the Web. Allen is an author, speaker and the founder of LeadRival, the leading provider of pay-per-action advertising in consumer legal services.

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