Philadelphia Harassment and Stalking Defense Lawyer
When most people think of harassment and stalking, they think of physical actions. In reality, these charges can encompass any number of things. The Pennsylvania state code lists activities, both online and off, that can be considered “threatening” and “unnecessary.” While these are certainly subjective since every person has their own definition of what makes something threatening or unnecessary, it also means that the line between harassing and non-harassing behavior becomes a little unclear. Furthermore, your mindset at the time can influence whether or not you’re guilty of harassment or stalking. These are serious allegations, and best handled by a Philadelphia harassment and stalking defense lawyer, who can analyze how the law applies to your unique situation.
If you face harassment or stalking charges in the Philadelphia area, talk to a criminal defense attorney with considerable experience in domestic violence situations. At Fienmen Defense, we understand what you are going through and can defend your rights during a Philadelphia harassment investigation. Actions can be misunderstood, and we can help you avoid being the victim of a miscommunication. Don’t let your story get told for you; speak to a Pennsylvania defense attorney today.
The Definition of Harassment in PA
Stalking and harassment are two concepts that frequently come up together. Under Pennsylvania Criminal Code Title 18 Sec. 2709, actions that be considered harassment are:
- Striking, shoving, kicking, or otherwise physically contacting another person;
- Threatening or attempting to strike; shove, kick, or otherwise physically contact another person;
- Following another person “in or about” a public place, or multiple public places;
- Engaging in conduct, or repeated acts, that serve no legitimate purpose;
- Conveying to or about another person lewd or threatening words, language, drawings, or caricatures;
- Communicating repeatedly in an anonymous manner;
- Communicating repeatedly at an extremely inconvenient time; or
- Repeated communication in some other form.
Whether you’re guilty of harassment goes beyond simply how you acted. To harass someone, you must engage in one of the mentioned actions with the intent to “harass, annoy, or alarm” them.
When Harassment Happens Online
Pennsylvania law makes it a crime to harass a child online. You are determined to have committed cyber harassment of a child if you repeatedly send or post:
- Seriously disparaging comments or opinions about the child’s physical appearance, sexuality, sexual activity, or health condition (physical or mental); or
- A threat to inflict harm.
These are crimes whether they are sent directly to the child, or posted on social media.
False Reports of Harassment Are a Significant Issue
One of the biggest issues with harassment is the false reporting of its occurrence. Harassment is not an accusation to make lightly and Pennsylvania law makes it a crime to file a false report of harassment. Specifically, knowingly giving false information to a law officer to implicate someone of harassment is illegal under the Code.
Harassment Penalties Depend on the Level of Charge
In Pennsylvania, you can be charged with harassment under two classifications: summary and misdemeanor. Summary offenses are the most minor classification of criminal charges under Pennsylvania law. If you’re charged with summary harassment, you face a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail. You may also be fined up to $300. Harassment can also be charged as a misdemeanor of the third degree. This is sometimes referred to as “M3” harassment. If you’re convicted of M3 harassment, the penalties become noticeably more severe. You could be incarcerated for up to one year, and face a maximum fine of $2,500. What form of harassment you are charged with will depend upon such factors as:
- What behavior you were engaging in;
- How long you were engaging in harassing behavior;
- Previous offense on your record; and
- Whether any previous offenses were harassment-related.
There Are Several Defenses Available to Fight a Harassment Charge
One of the most effective defenses against a harassment charge is demonstrating a lack of intent. The Pennsylvania statute requires intent, so if you can establish that your actions or behavior were not meant to “threaten” or “annoy,” then it cannot rise to the level of criminal harassment. Other possible defenses include, but aren’t limited to:
If your behavior was to prevent the person from doing something to you first, you may claim self-defense.
Cases of mistaken identity happen all the time. If you can prove that the person engaged in the harassing behavior was not you, you cannot be charged with harassment.
Your Accuser’s Lack of Credibility
If your accuser’s story is full of inconsistencies or inaccuracies, you may point to her lack of credibility as your own defense.
Sufficiency of Evidence
You cannot be convicted of harassment just because someone says you did it. If there is not enough evidence introduced to prove your guilt, you cannot be convicted. It’s important to remember the necessity for sufficient evidence goes both ways. You cannot simply claim a defense; you’ll need a comprehensive legal defense to prove it.
Stalking Charges in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s stalking law is detailed under 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2709.1 and Philadelphia courts take stalking charges very seriously and even an allegation can have dire consequences. While stalking and harassment are crimes that are frequently discussed together, Pennsylvania defines stalking as:
- A course of conduct or repeated actions which put another person in reasonable fear of bodily harm or emotional distress; or
- A course of action or repeated communication with intent to place fear of bodily harm or emotional distress in the recipient.
Specifically, a “course of conduct” is a pattern of more than one act over a period of time. Under Pennsylvania law, your first stalking offense is classified as a first-degree misdemeanor. This carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. You may additionally face fines of up to $10,000. These penalties will increase if you have previous offenses related to stalking or violence towards the same victim. Additionally, alleged stalking victims also seek out protection from abuse orders (PFA), which create serious additional problems for the person who falls under their restrictions.
What You Need To Know About Stalking in PA
Repeated phone calls; a deluge of texts, emails and Facebook posts; unwelcome gifts and following a person in ways that may scare or harass them, are among the distinctive features of stalking. But every case is unique, and a lot depends on the circumstances involved. If you are charged with stalking your side of the story needs to be explained clearly and as quickly as possible.
Possible Stalking Defenses
Several elements of the stalking statute are subjective. For example, the language of the law mentions “intent” to cause harm or emotional distress. If you can show a lack of intent, you may be able to avoid a stalking charge. To show this, you can examine the communications from the person who alleged stalking. They may not have made their discomfort or fear clear. If it was never made explicit that they were feeling threatened, you may have continued in your course of action without any intent to cause harm or emotional distress.
What To Do If You Are Charged with Stalking
If you are charged with stalking, try not to overreact to the allegations or anger the arresting officer unnecessarily. At this stage, do not discuss what happened with the police or claim your innocence.
- As with most criminal charges, you should not talk to the police or prosecutors without an attorney present. What you say can be taken out of context and used against you.
- If the police question you, tell them you want a lawyer and politely refuse to answer their questions.
What Your Harassment and Stalking Defense Lawyer Can Do
Your attorney will carefully review every aspect of your case to determine if there is evidence to support or dispel the accusations.
- If it is a you-said/they-said situation, where the only evidence against you is an accusation, you will be in a stronger position.
- Your lawyer will make every effort to discredit any evidence not in your favor.
Your lawyer will be looking at every avenue that can help you, so it’s important that you give them all of the information that can support your case.
Discuss Your Case With a Pennsylvania Defense Lawyer Today
A harassment or stalking defense attorney will be able to provide some clarity in your harassment case. An attorney from Fienmen Defense will be able to discuss your charges, possible defenses, and the best course of action for you. To schedule a free consultation at one of our Pennsylvania offices, call (215) 839-9529 or fill out the online form today.