Understanding Pennsylvania’s Stalking Laws

understanding-pennsylvanias-stalking-lawsIn recent years, the state of Pennsylvania, like many other jurisdictions, has taken a strong stance against activities considered to be stalking or harassment. Under Pennsylvania law, stalking typically involves a pattern of activity, rather than a single incident. Section 2709.1 of Title 18 defines stalking as a “course of conduct or repeated acts without authorization with intent to place [a person]in reasonable fear or cause substantial emotional distress. In addition, it can be obvious and direct or more subtle, from visible confrontations or following to things like unwanted gifts, unsolicited phone calls or other forms of attention.

There’s a requirement under the Pennsylvania law that the victim of stalking show that the harassment resulted in some level of emotional distress. This is typically determined by the judge or jury, based on the facts. In most instances, a first charge of stalking will be prosecuted as a misdemeanor in the 1st degree. However, if the defendant has any prior convictions for stalking, the charges can be far more serious, and can rise to the level of a 3rd degree felony.

It’s pretty common, when a person is charged with stalking, for the victim to ask the court to issue a restraining or protective order. Such an order typically requires the “stalker” to stay a minimum distance from the victim, from the victim’s home and work, and from other places the victim is known to go. It can also limit or ban certain types of contact, including mail, phone or Internet, and can make it a violation of the order to send anything to the victim. Violation of the order is considered contempt of court and can lead to substantial fines, as well as incarceration.

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