What You Need to Know About Stalking Laws in California

Stalking can be very unpredictable and dangerous. It is a public safety issue and health problem that affects millions of individuals in the United States. Here’s what you need to know about stalking laws in California.

In California, stalking laws make it illegal for one to follow, harass, and threaten another person. If the defendant causes the alleged victim to reasonably fear for his or her safety, then the defendant is in violation of the California Penal Code 646.9(a).

Defining Stalking in California

In order to have a conviction under Penal Code §646.9(a), the prosecution must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  • The defendant willfully and maliciously harassed or willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly followed the alleged victim; AND,
  • The defendant made a credible threat with the intention of placing the alleged victim in reasonable fear for his or her safety and/or for the safety of his or her family

Many of these terms may appear abstract. Let’s break down these terms of Penal Code §646.9(a) to better understand stalking convictions.

“Willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly”

Someone acts maliciously when he or she intentionally commits a wrongful act or when he or she acts with the intent to disturb, annoy, or injure the alleged victim. “Repeatedly” refers to the wrongful action being committed more than once.

“Harassment”

Harassment refers to knowingly and intentionally engaging in conduct that may seriously annoy, alarm, torment, or terrorize the alleged victim. This conduct must serve no legitimate purpose in order to be considered stalking.

“Credible threat”

Under this penal code, a credible threat is one that causes the alleged victim to reasonably fear for his or her safety or for the safety of his/her family. Additionally, the defendant must appear able to carry out the threat in order for it to be considered credible. This can be implied from past conduct or a combination of statements and conduct. A credible threat can be made orally, in writing, or electronically.

“Reasonable fear”

The court will decide whether or not the alleged victim was in reasonable fear depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. However, it is important to note that certain threats do not constitute stalking.

What Does Not Count as Stalking Under Stalking Laws in California?

Under CPC 646.9(a), certain conduct is not legally considered stalking:

  • A person cannot be convicted of stalking if his or her conduct is under a constitutionally protected activity. For example, a reporter willfully following a public official is engaged in a constitutionally protected activity – press freedom
  • A person cannot be convicted of stalking if the threat made is not credible. For example, most jokes cannot count as stalking since there is no realistic or credible threat
  • A person cannot be convicted of stalking if it is a false accusation. For example, if a landlord wants a tenant to leave and falsely accuses them of stalking, the tenant cannot be convicted of stalking as the claim is fabricated

Penalties for Stalking Under California Stalking Law

In California, stalking can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the case, as well as the criminal history of the defendant. If the defendant is convicted of misdemeanor cyberstalking, he or she could be sentenced to up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If the defendant is convicted of a felony, he or she could be sentenced to up to five years in state prison and fines of up to $1,000.

Under California Penal Code Section 290, a person convicted of stalking may also be required to register as a sex offender.

FAQs About Stalking Laws in California

What are some crimes related to stalking?

Crimes that are often charged along with stalking include kidnapping, annoying phone calls, and criminal threats.

Related: Cyberstalking Laws in California

Can a stalking conviction be expunged?

A person convicted of stalking may seek to get the offense expunged. As per Penal Code 1203.4, an expungement for a misdemeanor or felony offense may be authorized if the applicant has successfully completed probation and is not currently charged with a criminal offense, on probation for one, or serving a sentence for a crime. Contact a legal expert for more information on expungements.

Does a stalking conviction affect a person’s gun rights?

A felony conviction for stalking can and will have an effect on the convicted individual’s gun rights. If the defendant is charged with felony stalking and gets convicted, he or she would have to give up any gun ownership and possession rights.

Related: Gun Violence Restraining Orders in California

What should a person do if he or she believes they are being stalked?

If you or someone you know believes they are being stalked, it is important to take action. Do not engage with the stalker in any way. Make sure to inform friends, family, and other loved ones of the stalking. If deemed necessary, call the police and make a report. It is pertinent to keep and preserve any evidence of stalking.

Related: How to Sue a Stalker in California: Grounds for a Claim

Contact Her Lawyer

If you or a loved one is a victim of stalking in California, contact us. We’ll get you in touch with the most qualified lawyer for your unique legal matter. Get your free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys in California today!