After a breakup or divorce, it's not uncommon to be curious about how an ex is doing or want to maintain an amicable relationship. However, some people go beyond showing mild curiosity or friendliness toward their ex and engage in illegal stalking or harassing behavior. When someone repeatedly tries to contact an ex by phone, email, social media, showing up at their home, or through other means, such actions may lead to stalking or harassment charges. These criminal charges can have very serious consequences, especially if the defendant has a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order filed against them.
What Constitutes Stalking Under Pennsylvania Law?
Pennsylvania law defines stalking as repeatedly committing certain acts or communicating with a person in a manner that reasonably demonstrates an intent to harm or cause them substantial emotional distress.
A person may be engaging in such unlawful acts or communications if they repeatedly:
- Call, text, email, or send social media messages to a person who has told them they don't want to be contacted
- Follow someone, whether in-person or through a tracking device, without their permission or legal authority
- Appear unexpectedly at someone's home, especially if the person told them they are unwelcome or that their presence makes them feel threatened
- Make threats, lewd comments, show up unexpectedly or loiter in areas near the alleged victim, or otherwise make the person feel unsafe
What Is the Difference Between Stalking and Harassment?
Stalking and harassment share many similarities. Under Pennsylvania law, harassment is when someone engages in certain actions against another person with the intent of annoying, alarming, or bothering that person. Harassing behavior can include:
- Using physical violence or making threats of physical violence against another person
- Making repeated communications that serve no legitimate purpose to a person
- Communicating to or about the alleged victim in any lewd, threatening, or obscene manner, whether in words, drawings, or images.
- Communicating repeatedly in an anonymous matter or at inconvenient hours, such as in the middle of the night
One of the most significant differences between stalking and harassing is intention. Harassment has a lower standard of proof as it only requires that the alleged harasser's actions intend to annoy or alarm a person, unlike stalking, which requires intent to cause physical harm or mental distress.
What Are the Penalties for Stalking and Harassment?
Harassment is usually a summary offense or a third-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania. A summary offense is the most minor type of criminal offense in the state, akin to loitering or disorderly conduct. This offense conviction usually carries up to $300 in fines and a maximum of 90 days in jail. A third-degree misdemeanor could bring financial penalties up to $2,500 and as long as one year in jail. However, if the harassment is a repeat offense, a person could face fines of $5,000 and up to a year in jail.
Stalking is usually considered a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 2-1/2 to 5 years in prison and fines up to $10,000. The act may constitute a third-degree felony, however, if the defendant has been convicted of another domestic violence crime or the defendant has a PFA against them. Conviction of a third-degree felony can bring fines up to $15,000 and as long as seven years of prison.
Pennsylvania Attorney for Stalking and Harassment Cases
Stalking or harassment are serious charges that bring major consequences for all involved. If you are involved in a stalking or harassment case in Pennsylvania, you need an experienced lawyer to represent you and help fight for the best possible outcome. Contact Pennsylvania attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today to help you succeed in your stalking or harassment case. Call 888-535-3686 now.