Stalking is a serious crime in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It requires proof of intentional conduct that a person put another in fear through conduct which qualifies as stalking. As a result of a conviction for stalking, you face jail time, high fines, and the imposition of protective and no contact orders.
If you or someone you care for has been charged with stalking in Virginia, attorney Bryan J. Jones can provide you with the advice, assistance, and protection of your rights. You are not guilty just because you are charged with a crime.
What is Stalking in Virginia?
Stalking is defined in Va. Code § 18.2-60.3. Stalking is intentionally engaging in behavior or conduct that places another person in fear of death, criminal sexual activity, or bodily injury. To convict, a Virginia prosecutor must prove:
- An offender engaged in conduct, at least twice;
- That was directed at or against another person;
- With the intent to place that person or a member of his or her family in fear of;
- death, criminal sexual activity, or bodily injury.
Conduct which may be considered stalking includes, but is not limited to:
- Following another person against that person's will or without permission;
- Waiting at another person's place of work or home;
- Making threatening phone calls; or
- Unwanted and threatening online contact, such as social media.
More Than Once
To be convicted of the offense, the alleged offender must engage in the conduct more than once before he or she can be convicted.
Intent to Place in Fear
The Virginia prosecutor must show that the alleged offender engaged in the conduct with the intent to cause fear or knew that the conduct would cause fear in another person. Fear is a reasonable apprehension of death, criminal sexual activity, or bodily injury.
A Person or Family/Household Member
The fear must be directed at another person. That can be the person at which the alleged offender intended to cause the fear, or it can be directed at a family or household member of the intended victim. Family or household members include:
- A spouse;
- Former spouse;
- Parents, stepparents, children, stepchildren, brothers, sisters, half-brothers and sisters, grandparents, and grandchildren;
- Father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law if they reside in the same home with the person;
- Any person who shares a child with the person;
- Any person who lives with the person, within the last year, or any children of the cohabiting person.
Where the Offense Occurs
The conduct does not only have to occur in Virginia. So long as the conduct which applies toward the charge of stalking happened at least once within the Virginia borders, conduct outside of the Commonwealth can apply to the charge.
Evidence of Stalking:
Probably the most important wording in Virginia's stalking law is this
"If the person contacts or follows or attempts to contact or follow the person at whom the conduct is directed after being given actual notice that the person does not want to be contacted or followed, such actions shall be prima facie evidence that the person intended to place that other person, or reasonably should have known that the other person was placed, in reasonable fear of death, criminal sexual assault, or bodily injury to himself or a family or household member."
That means that even if you do not intend to place someone in fear for their safety, you could still be convicted of stalking if you contact someone after they have told you not to.
You cannot be convicted of stalking if you are
- A law enforcement officer acting in the performance of his or her official duties; or
- A registered private investigator, who is regulated according to certain Virginia laws, and who is acting in his or her legitimate business.
Penalties for Stalking in Virginia
A first-time charge of stalking in Virginia is a Class 1 misdemeanor. It is punishable by the following:
- Up to 12 months in jail;
- A maximum fine of up to $2,500; and
- A no-contact order between the offender and the victim or family member.
A second or more offense within a 5 year period is a Class 6 felony, and is punishable as follows:
- Up to 5 years in state prison; and
- A fine of up to $2,500.
Any violation of a protective order imposed as a result of a stalking offense can result in:
- A finding of contempt of the court order;
- New criminal charges as applicable to the conduct; or
- A separate Class 1 misdemeanor charge of violation of a protective order.
Defenses to Stalking Charges in Virginia
While every case is different, and different defenses may apply to your case, your Virginia criminal attorney can analyze the unique facts of your case to present the best defense. Some of the following could be used to prevent or reduce your conviction.
Present Reasonable Doubt
A Virginia prosecutor is required to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each and every element of the charge. Your criminal defense attorney can show that there are inconsistencies in the prosecutor's case, creating doubt in the mind of the jury. Your attorney can also attempt to show that you were not the guilty party, or your conduct did not place the alleged victim in fear.
Challenge the Intentional Element of the Charge
If the acts were not intended to create fear, or you did not reasonably know that your conduct would cause fear, you are not guilty of the offense. This can be challenged by showing that your conduct would not put a reasonable person in fear, or that your particular conduct would not cause fear in the alleged victim.
Prove the Alleged Victim is not a Family or Household Member
If the person allegedly in "fear" is alleged to be a household or family member, the prosecutor must show that the person qualifies under the specific definition. If that person does not, the charge cannot apply and your case could be dismissed.
Challenge the Conduct Alleged to be Stalking
Just because the prosecutor claims that you "stalked" a person, does not mean that this is true. If your conduct was reasonable and did not cause fear, it is not stalking. You and your attorney can challenge the prosecutor's case to show that it does not rise to the level of a criminal offense.
The Conduct Did Not Occur More than Once
To be charged with the crime of stalking, the Virginia prosecutor must prove the conduct occurred more than once. To challenge this, you can fight each alleged instance of the conduct. If you are able to successfully challenge even one of the prosecutor's claims, you could be found not guilty of the offense of stalking.
Consult Your Virginia Defense Attorney
A misdemeanor or felony conviction for stalking has serious consequences. An experienced Virginia attorney knows the law and will use it to defend your case. Even if the police and prosecutor treat you like you are guilty, you still have legal rights and defenses.
Contact Virginia criminal defense attorney Bryan J. Jones to fight for your constitutional rights throughout the criminal process. He represents clients in Charlottesville, Albemarle, and surrounding counties.