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Classified in most states as a misdemeanor, harassment charges stem from communications which cause the victim to feel threatened, alarmed, embarrassed, and, yes, harassed.
What is Harassment?
Harassment charges involve communications, both spoken and written, including comments made on social networking sites.
You cannot be charged with harassment until the alleged victim proves this communication took place (much easier to do if it is in written format). However, the victim must also prove, or provide evidence, that the intent of the communication was to harm the victim in some way. This does not have to be physical harm; it may include intent to embarrass, annoy, psychologically torment, or alarm the victim.
Common harassing communications include making threats of bodily harm, hounding the victim with repeated messages or phone calls, and making obscene comments or demands. A charge of harassment depends entirely on the intent of the perpetrator and the effect of his or her actions on the victim.
Defending yourself against a harassment charge requires proving there was no intent to cause harm in the communication. The prosecutor's job is proving, through evidence or testimony (or both), that the intent was to frighten or alarm the victim.
What are Stalking and Menacing?
Unlike harassment, stalking moves beyond communication to specific actions that cause the victim to fear for his or her safety. Some states, however, include stalking under the same umbrella as harassment within state statute. (To see where your state stands on stalking laws, click here.)
In other states, stalking is considered a form of menacing and as such is not charged under harassment statutes.
If you are charged with interstate stalking, this is a federal crime and is tried and punished as such.
What is Cyber Harassment?
Cyber harassment has grown enormously in recent years, thanks to the prevalence of the Internet, smartphones, and social medial platforms.
Also known as cyberbullying and cyberstalking, numerous famous examples exist, such as the Gamergate episode in 2014, in which a woman's ex-boyfriend incited thousands of men to harass and threaten her online. There are also numerous instances of people committing suicide after being relentlessly harassed on social media sites. In response, many states now have laws against cyber harassment.
Harassment Paired with Other Charges
Though typically charged as a low-level misdemeanor, aggravating factors may push a harassment charge to a higher class of misdemeanor or even into low-level felony territory.
For example, making an obscene proposal online is simple harassment. If you make the same proposal to a minor, you face charges of online solicitation of a minor, a felony in most states. If harassment occurs repeatedly, you could face charges of stalking instead of harassment.
Penalties for Harassment
Penalties for harassment depend entirely on the state and whether it classifies harassment as a misdemeanor or felony, and the state's standard penalties for both. In addition, the type of harassment of which you stand accused plays a role, with mitigating and aggravating factors determining felony or misdemeanor charges. For example, in Arizona, harassment falls under either class 1 misdemeanor or class 5 felony. Harassment of private citizens is a misdemeanor, whereas harassment of public figures, cyberbullying, and stalking fall are classified as felonies. Penalties include:
- Class 1 misdemeanor: $2,500 in fines and up to six months in jail
- Class 5 felony: Up to $150,000 in fines (determined by the judge) and up to 30 months in prison
- 3rd degree: Classified as a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and up to 6 months in jail
- 2nd degree: Classified as a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to $2,000 in fines and up to 12 months in jail
- 1st degree: Classified as a class D felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and fines up to $5,000.
In Kansas, however, harassment is a class A felony, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and $2,500 in fines, with prior convictions extending your possible sentence to 17 months.
Connecticut punishes harassment and stalking under the same statute, separated into 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree. Stalking penalties include:
Harassment victims may also pursue a restraining order against the harasser, as well as file a civil suit for damages. If the harassment occurs in the workplace, the victim may file suit against both the harasser and his or her employer.
Schedule a Free Consultation
If you face harassment charges, schedule a free consultation with an experienced defense attorney to determine next steps and how to defend your case.