Nothing is more off-putting that the feeling you are being followed. For some, the feeling is a reality, as they are the victims of stalkers. In North Carolina, stalking is treated extremely harshly by the court-system and by our legislatures, and there are actually three different offense classes that can cover similar behavior. The statute for Stalking, North Carolina Gen. Stat. § 14-277.3A, specifically discusses the “long-lasting” effect stalking can have on the victim, as well as the real possibility that it becomes “increasingly violent over time.” To be guilty of stalking generally, a person needs to purposely follow, harass, or be in the presence of another person for an improper purpose, with the intent to place them in fear of their safety or the safety of their loved ones, or cause that person emotional distress due to that fear. However, the key to stalking is the repetitive nature of the offense: it must happen on more than one occasion.
For many victims of stalkers, a restraining order may be one avenue by which to prevent repeated harassment, and the courts are given wide latitude in terms of the conduct that can be prohibited. If the stalker is someone who was in a personal or romantic relationship with their victim, a 50B (Domestic Violence Order of Protection) may be the more appropriate method, and judges too have a wide range of protective options at their disposal. Going back to the Stalking statute, the General Assembly specifically recognizes the possible link between stalking and domestic violence as well as sexual assault, and the goal is therefore to “encourage effective intervention” to help prevent stalking before it rises to the “serious or lethal” levels.
For the first conviction of this offense, the crime is a Class A1 misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of 150 days in jail. However, for those defendants who do not receive a sentence of imprisonment, they must be placed on supervised probation (which is the more “hands-on” type of probation, as opposed to unsupervised probation which is significantly less “hands-on”). Furthermore, if someone has previously been convicted of stalking, their second (and third, and fourth, and so-on) conviction is elevated to a Class F felony, punishable by a maximum sentence of 33-49 months in the Department of Adult Corrections. If the victim has a 50B or a restraining order that prohibits the stalker from particular behavior and the stalker still acts in violation of the statute, the punishment is a Class H felony punishable by a maximum prison sentence of 22-33 months (and could further be found guilty of violation of a valid domestic violence protective order, which is discussed more fully here).
Many issues arise which can make it difficult to prove you have been the victim of a stalker and also to prove that you have actually stalked someone. For example, proving that someone is stalking you for one of the aforementioned improper purposes may be difficult, although the frequency by which they act may go a long way towards convincing the judge their actions rise to the level of criminal conduct. Furthermore, it may be difficult to actually “catch” the person in the act of stalking you (if they are practiced in not being seen). Also, what does it take to cause “emotional distress” sufficient to satisfy the dictates of the statute? Does just being around a person a few times qualify? And what if the person who is caused emotional distress by your being near them is just paranoid, and the “average reasonable person” would not react in the same way? At Arnold & Smith, PLLC, we have criminal defense attorneys who are well versed in proving cases and defending against them, and we would be happy to speak with you about the specifics of your case if you or someone you know is being stalked or harassed, or if you have been charged with any of these criminal charges.