Stalking is defined as a pattern of behavior that may entail showing up at someone's home repeatedly, harassing them, or evoking trepidation. Virginia law defines stalking as the intent or knowledge that specific repeated behavior causes justifiable fear in the target person.
Virginia recognizes stalking as a crime, and it can be something innocuous as showing up at someone's workplace, local grocery store, or community park. Severe forms of stalking involve sending threats to harm the victim and their family, through telephone, email, written notes, and such. Virginia Criminal Attorney is adept at litigating stalking cases, and we have prepared this guide to help clients facing these charges in Virginia.
Virginia Code Section 18.2-60.3
Any instance of stalking violates Virginia Code Section 18.2-60.3 and is therefore punishable by law. This unwanted behavior is repeated conducted aimed at putting an individual or their family in reasonable fear of bodily harm, death, or sexual assault.
Stalkers often target estranged spouses, public figures, former employers, or other regular people after they presumably annoyed them in some way. It is not atypical to find deranged stalkers harassing victims even without a previous connection to them. Stalkers can take three forms:
- Simple obsessional (most common and usually dangerous)
- Love obsessional (e.g., with celebrities), and
- Erotomanic (the stalker believes that person loves them)
Section 18.2-60.3 indicates that more than one action must be taken for someone to be convicted of stalking. This law, however, does not absolve the perpetrator from being charged with another offense. For example, being spotted in the parking lot of your ex-partners apartment building once does not fulfill Virginia's stalking laws. You could argue you were visiting a friend who lives in the same building.
Nevertheless, you may be charged with trespassing if the management prohibits strangers from entering the premises without a gate pass. Repeated visits without a justifiable reason, such as apartment hunting, may be construed as stalking.
Proving Intent for Stalking Charges
Virginia stalking statute requires to prove intent to harass the victim, cause bodily harm, murder them, or sexually assault them. Without a clear purpose, the charges won't stick, and the perpetrator will be charged with something else. In some cases, the culprit may not be charged with any offense, so they will be free to torment you again.
The national news is awash with cases where stalkers were not apprehended or were released too soon, and ended up hurting their victims. In February 2019, a man was sentenced to one year in jail for stalking women who cut him off in traffic. He targeted several women, stole underwear, and left semen on their vehicles and in one person's home. This deranged man justified his actions to authorities by saying he felt disrespected by those women.
Looking at this example, this man was on a vengeful mission, and he must have reasonably known that his actions were offensive. What's more, he must have known that breaking into someone's home would evoke fear in them. His behavior was deliberate and, therefore, proved intent to justify the stalking charge.
Other Clarifications for Stalking Charges
Proving intent and having the action occur more than once are not the only requirements for stalking charges in Virginia. The prosecutor must verify that your actions constitute harassment, and they pose a credible threat, as per the definitions below:
- "Bodily injury" means causing extensive physical pain, illness, or other forms of physical impairment such as disfigurement, breaking limbs, etc.
- "Credible threat" means a risk of injuring someone made with the apparent capacity to carry out the said threat. A reasonable person must believe that the risk of bodily harm is real.
- "Harasses" means intentional conduct aimed at a specific person or persons that would inflict emotional distress or mental injury to a reasonable person.
- "Immediate family" refers to a marital partner, child/ step-child, sibling, parent/ stepparent, mother, and father-in-law, or any other person who habitually lives in the household — alternatively, someone who frequently resided in the home in the past six months.
- "Repeatedly" means the unwarranted behavior happened on two or more occasions.
Cyberstalking Laws in Virginia
Virginia code § 18.2-152.7:1 is the "harassment by computer" law, and perpetrators will be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. This regulation outlaws a person's intent to intimidate, harass or coerce any person by using a computer or computer network to communicate using lewd or indecent language, to another person. This law also prohibits making obscene suggestions or threatening to engage in immoral acts.
In March 2017, a man in Newport News was sentenced to prison for cyberstalking. He had used a cell phone to send death threats and also posted death threats on an internet blog, aimed at several victims. The FBI, in conjunction with local law enforcement, used phone and internet records to determine where the threats emanated, and make an arrest. The presiding United States District Court Judge issued a sentence of 41 months.
Stalking Protective Order
In many cases, stalking victims request a protection order from the culprit preventing them from approaching them in public or other settings. Anyone who suspects someone is stalking them can obtain an Emergency Protective Order from a magistrate or judge. If the culprit refuses to relent on these actions, you can petition the General District Court for a Preliminary Protective Order or Stalking Protective Order.
This Stalking Protective Order is a civil decree that accomplishes the following aims:
- Orders the perpetrator to stop doing any more acts of stalking
- Prohibits any contact between you and the stalker, including your family, either in person or through phone or email
- Order the stalker to keep off from your workplace or place of residence
Family Abuse and Stalking in Virginia
Family abuse refers to any acts of violence, threats, or force (including forceful detention), which yields physical injury on the victim. It also covers actions that evoke justifiable fear of severe bodily harm in them. A person must commit these acts against their family or person who regularly lives within that household.
Many stalkers target romantic partners, especially after the relationship ends badly. If your former partner is stalking you during a separation or after the marriage dissolves, you can get a Family Abuse Protective Order against them. The same applies to former partners with whom you share children. They could be hanging around to intimidate you and the kids, so you feel afraid and allow them back into your life.
Victims of family stalking are advised to contact the police immediately if they suspect something is amiss and refrain from any contact with the aggressor. They also keep records of any communication such as notes, emails, or gifts sent to their workplace or residence, plus a list of witnesses. Law enforcement will use this evidence to prove that you stalked the plaintiff.
Types of Protective Orders in Family Abuse Cases
The law has three main provisions to keep the abusers and stalkers away from their victims, as outlined below:
- Emergency Protective Order (EPO)
An Emergency Protective Order (EPO) is obtained from the court when someone is apprehended for domestic assault. It is also obtained for battery cases or when there is a justifiable reason to believe family abuse has or will ensue. The victim of abuse can petition the court for an EPO or a member of law enforcement can request.
This order remains active for a minimum of 72 hours and ends at 5:00 p.m. every day. An officer may request the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court to extend the EPO if the victim is unable to require further protection. For instance, they could be mentally or physically damaged.
- Preliminary Protective Order (PPO)
Victims may file a petition for a Preliminary Protective Order (PPO) by informing the court of an imminent threat or if the abuse has already happened. This request is filed at the Intake Office of the Court Service Unit, and it can be granted ex parte (with only one party present).
This order outlaws any acts of abuse or contact with victims, and it also grants residence to the family. The decree must postulate a hearing date within 15 days, and both parties must receive notice of the impending full hearing.
- Protective Order (PO)
People who have suffered or are in danger of family abuse and stalking can request a Protective Order (PO) by filing a petition with the Intake Office of the Court Service Unit. Both sides must be given notice and an opportunity to appear before a judge for a full hearing before a PO is granted.
The protective order has many provisions that include prohibiting contact with family/household members, grant momentary possession of the victim's or jointly- vehicle. The abuser must attend rehabilitative programs and provide alternate housing for household members until the threat is neutralized. If young children are involved, this order grants temporary custody for up to two years as the abuser seeks treatment.
What are the Penalties for Stalking in Virginia?
Virginia has strict stalking laws aimed at deterring this crime and holding the culprits accountable for their unsavory behavior. Similar to other crimes, the penalties stack up with every subsequence charge of stalking or related crimes.
First Stalking Offence
A first-time offense of stalking is considered a class 1 misdemeanor, and the state will issue a restraining order after conviction. This crime is punishable by up to twelve months in prison or paying a $2500 fine or a combination of both penalties. Having an experienced lawyer by your side makes a huge difference in the outcome.
Virginia Criminal Attorney has represented many clients like you facing Class 1 misdemeanor charges, and kept them away from jail. When there is a possibility of serving time, paying a fine is a much better recourse that also prevents you from losing your job. The social stigma surrounding convicts is a reality that ex-convicts have to grapple with every day, and this stress can undermine the quality of your life. Let us help you avoid this adverse outcome.
Second and Subsequent Stalking Offence
If you are charged with stalking for a second time and counting within five consecutive years, or a related crime, this crime is billed as a Class 6 felony. You will serve up to five years in a state correctional facility. You could also be asked to pay fines of not less than $3,000 and not more than $10,000, or a combination of both penalties.
Anyone who is granted probation or whose sentencing or imprisonment has been suspended must participate in medical treatment or counseling as instructed by the court. After conviction, the court may put a restraining order to prevent the stalker from contacting the victims in any way for up to ten years. Some restraining orders are affected for five years.
The duration depends on the gravity of stalking, the safety of the victims, and the possibility of continued stalking. If a defendant has a long history of stalking, the restraining order will remain in place for a minimum of ten years.
Penalties for Contravening Protective Orders
Victims of stalking or family abuse can request the court for a protective order barring their stalkers from approaching them at work, place of residence, or other settings. Protective Orders aim to dissuade culprits from bad behavior and give victims a sense of safety.
Unfortunately, stalkers can be unrelenting, and they end up violating the provision of protective orders making life unbearable for their victims. Under Virginia Code § 19.2-152.8, 19.2-152.9, or 19.2-152.10, such people are guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by law. If you have violated any of the above protective orders, you need a lawyer who understands Virginia's stalking laws to examine your case file.
Can I Be Charged for Stalking Outside Virginia?
Harassing and other forms of stalking are deemed unlawful outside Virginia, as well. Title 18.2, Chapter 4, Section 18.2-60.3 stipulates a prosecutor only requires one occasion of stalking inside the state to charge you. This law means that if you have been stalking an ex-partner in other jurisdictions and still harassed them inside Virginia, you will get prosecuted.
If you are facing stalking charges within and outside Virginia, there is a high likelihood of receiving the maximum punishable sentence as outlined above. Contact a Virginia Criminal Attorney for an initial case analysis so we can determine how we can help you stay out of prison.
What Happens if I am Convicted of Stalking in Virginia?
A criminal conviction in this state will have many ramifications long after you complete your sentence. For example, convicts lose their civil rights until their appeal for restoration is successful.
- Virginia's Felony Disenfranchisement
The Virginia Constitution upholds Felony Disenfranchisement, which stipulates that nobody who has been convicted of a felony will. The person can only do so if the Governor or other appropriate authority has restored his civil rights."
In 2014, Governor Terry McAuliffe restored the voting rights for thousands of non-violent felons, but violent offenders still cannot vote. If you are convicted of first or repeated stalking charges involving a violent act, you will lose voting rights until five years after release.
If you wish to have your civil rights restored, you must pay your debt to society and prove a change of behavior. Non-violent offenders can apply for this restoration three years after release, and violent offenders can apply five years after publication. This sixty-day process entails a criminal background check and an in-depth review before the Governor can approve.
- Hard to Find Employment
Unlike a pardon by the Governor, the restoration of voting rights does not erase your criminal record. You can run for office and serve as a notary public after your civil rights are restored. Nevertheless, job opportunities in the public sector, such as teaching in the local school or working at a daycare, will be out of reach. Licensing boards of certain professions can deny you a license to start a practice or revoke an active research grant.
Also, prospective employers in the private sector will have access to this history, and they can deny you employment as per their discretion. Convicts are not allowed to carry or transport firearms or even carry a concealed weapon. You can apply for these rights at the circuit court in your jurisdiction, but this usually happens only after the restoration of civil rights. This requirement means you cannot get employment in a security firm, or any other job that requires handling weapons.
While Virginia laws allow convicted felons to take the bar exam, admission to the bar is not automatic. The Character and Fitness Committee would require you to present clear and resounding proof that you have the desired character and fitness. This committee will examine the type of crime when it was committed, punishment served, and positive contribution to society since you were convicted. If you were given pardon or your civil rights have been restored, things may work in your favor.
Find a Dedicated Attorney Near Me
Stalking an ex-spouse, household members, or other people is a serious charge that can ruin your life if not addressed properly. Court proceedings may become challenging to follow, and you may not know if and when to negotiate a deal that saves you from harsh penalties.
Virginia Criminal Attorney has a dedicated team of experts for stalking cases, who are adept at helping clients like you get a fair trial. Our job is to ensure nobody violates your constitutional and procedural rights, and get you the most amicable outcome. Contact us today at 703-718-5533 for a free consultation.