What Qualifies as a Harassment Charge
Harassment charges typically occur when one individual threatens to injure another or do physical damage to the targeted individual’s property.
The first step in taking legal action for harassment includes a 911 call placed by the threatened individual. However, a harassment charge is brought against a defendant by a particular city (if the harassment act happened within city limits) or state.
In some situations, law enforcement responds with an immediate arrest, but more often than not, an individual is not even aware that they have been charged with harassment until they receive a summons in the mail.
What Are the Charges for Harassment
In the United States, harassment can be charged as a Gross Misdemeanor or as a Felony. What the accused will be charged with depends on the allegations and the facts regarding his or her harassment act.
Gross Misdemeanor Harassment Charge
Misdemeanor harassment occurs when a person:
- Willingly and without legal authority threatens to:
- Immediately or in the future cause bodily harm to the threatened individual
- Cause physical damage to the victim’s property
- Confine or restrain the victim
- Do other malicious acts and harm the threatened individual with respect to his or her safety or physical and mental health
- Uses words and conducts that put the threatened person in reasonable fear that the threat will be carried out in the future
Is Harassment a Felony?
An individual can be guilty of Harassment at a Felony level if the Gross Misdemeanor elements have been met, and in addition:
- The person has previously been convicted of Harassment of the same victim, the victim’s family, or any other person named in a no-contact or no-harassment order
- The person threatens to kill the said victim or any other person
- The person threatens a criminal justice participant who is performing his or her duties when the threat is being made
- The person harasses a criminal justice participant because of their actions and decisions while performing official duties. Threatening words do not count as harassment if it is apparent to the criminal justice participant that the person does not have the present or future ability to carry out the threat
How Do Harassment Charges Get Resolved
Harassment charges are handled by Municipal, District, and Superior Courts. Municipal and District courts handle Gross Misdemeanor Harassment charges and offer more ways to resolve them apart from going to trial or the defendant pleading guilty.
Harassment charges on a Felony level are handled in Superior Court.
Resolving Gross Misdemeanor Harassment Charges
There are three different ways to resolve a Gross Misdemeanor Harassment charge:
- You can sign a Pre-Trial Diversion Agreement (PDA), which is a contract between the prosecutor and the defendant. If the defendant successfully abides by the terms of the Pre-Trial Diversion Agreement, the harassment charge gets dropped at the end of the term established by the PDA. In case all terms get met, there is never a conviction
- The quickest and least costly way is entering into a Compromise of Misdemeanor. Compromise of Misdemeanor occurs when the defense attorney obtains the victim’s signature on a document that states that the victim is waving future civil litigation against the defendant and wishes for the defendant, not to get prosecuted
- If the defendant does not want to resolve the Harassment charge through a Pre-Trial Diversion Agreement or Compromise of Misdemeanor, they can always set the matter for trial. At trial, the defendant has the right to require that the prosecutor proves every element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt
Resolving Harassment Charges on a Felony Level
Like Gross Misdemeanors, Felonies can also get resolved through alternative dispositions. One of the most common resolutions is through Felony Diversion. Felony Diversion includes the signing of a contract between the defendant and the Prosecuting attorney, through which the defendant agrees to pay restitution or do community service to stay crime-free.
Defendants can get their charges dropped in two distinct scenarios:
- If drug addiction influenced the criminal act, the defendant can take matters to Drug Court and possibly get the charges dropped
- If mental health issues influenced the criminal act, the defendant can take matters to the Behavioral Health Court and possibly get the charges dropped
Defense attorneys can persuade the Prosecuting attorneys to curtail the Felony Level Harassment to a Misdemeanor Level Harassment in exchange for a plea.
Lastly, the defendant can set the matter for trial and require the prosecutor to prove all elements of the Harassment charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Difference Between Stalking and Harassment
Some states separate stalking from harassment offenses, while others include both of them under a general statute. Interstate stalking is a federal crime in all fifty states of the United States.
Another term that is often used when talking about harassment is menacing. In some states, stalking is punished as a form of menacing that includes purposeful instillation of fear into another person. Stalkers can use weapon brandishing for these purposes.
To better understand what it means when someone is stalking you, let us see the main differences between stalking and harassment as these two charges are often filed simultaneously:
The perpetrator repeatedly follows and harasses another person
The person knowingly threatens to immediately or in the future cause injury to another person
The person followed is placed under reasonable fear that the stalker will injure him or her or do physical damage to his or her property
The person threatens to do physical damage to another person’s property
The stalker’s intent is to intimidate, frighten or harass another person
The perpetrator subjects its victim to physical confinement or restraint
The stalker understands or should understand that the followed person is afraid, intimidated or harassed
The person threatens to do other acts with the intention of causing substantial harm to another person
The perpetrator places the threatened person in reasonable fear that the threat will be carried out
Types of Internet Harassment
Although there are many different types of harassment offenses such as sexual harassment or stalking, the one that has become increasingly more common — due to the availability and accessibility of technology — is internet harassment.
There are three types of internet harassment:
Cyberstalking entails the use of electronic devices such as smartphones and computers to harass or stalk a single person or a group. Usually, the cyberstalker sends emails or posts threats on social media, chat rooms, website bulletin boards, etc.
Another type of electronic harassment that is similar to cyberstalking is cyberharassment. Unlike cyberstalking, cyber harassment does not involve physical threats but relies on the same methods of defamation, torture, and control of a single person or group.
Cyberbullying typically refers to internet bullying among minors. A person might use various online platforms to insult, harass, humiliate, torment, or even threaten another person. Cyberbullying often includes harassing behavior such as posting embarrassing videos on photos on social media, name-calling, and posting slanderous remarks.
What Is the Penalty for Harassment?
Depending on the state-specific laws governing different types of harassment, penalties vary significantly. A restraining order is not the only outcome of a Harassment charge!
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DoNotPay Can Help You With Pressing a Harassment Charge
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- Open DoNotPay and log in to your account
- Select Relationship Protection
- Choose Safety and Stalking
- Provide the chatbot with the perpetrator’s information (name or social media username)
- Provide the chatbot with information about how you have been harassed
Resolving In-Person Stalking
DoNotPay helps you write a cease and desist letter that you can send to the person that is stalking you, and demand an immediate stop to all harassing actions.
This letter can end up being vital if you decide to take legal action as it can serve as proof that you have tried to resolve the matter.
Resolving Online Stalking
If someone is stalking you online via social media platforms and chat rooms, you can use our Relationship Protection service to report that person.
We will immediately get in touch with the said social media platform representatives and try to achieve the following:
- Report the stalker’s profile for cyberbullying and online harassment so that it goes under investigation
- Block the stalker’s account and prevent him or her from harassing you in the future
How Do You File Harassment Charges
If you are a victim of repeated harassment, note that state laws are on your side and that there are multiple ways to deal with the issue legally. You have three options at your disposal. You can:
- Report criminal harassment
- Get a restraining order
- File a civil lawsuit
Reporting Criminal Harassment
If the harassment is currently in progress and the perpetrator threatens to do harm to you, your family, or your property, call 911 momentarily. Inform the operator about your whereabouts and explain to them what is going on. More often than not, the operator will stay on the line until law enforcement comes to your aid.
If you are able to, keep as much evidence of harassment as you can. This includes all received letters, photos, gifts, etc. Not only will the police have something to work with, but you will also be able to prove your case faster. Some states require you to provide at least three instances of harassing behavior when reporting criminal harassment, and evidence plays a key role during this process.
You can report the incident after it ends by:
- Going straight to your local police department
- Calling the non-emergency number and reporting harassment that way
After you report the harassment, the police will provide you with a written report that you will need to examine and check if there are mistakes carefully.
If the harassing behavior continues, you will want to contact the officer who took your initial report and have him or her update it with new information. A prosecutor or a detective might contact you if the police decide to conduct an investigation.
Lastly, testify in court if you want to (you are not legally obliged to do so). The prosecutor might ask you to testify if the harasser gets brought up on criminal charges and does not plead guilty.
Acquiring a Restraining Order
To apply for a restraining order, you need to provide copies of the documents that support your claims, such as the harasser’s letters. These documents are important evidence of the harassing behavior you have been exposed to. To get a restraining order application, you have to go to the nearest court and ask the clerk to provide you with one. The restraining order will keep the harasser from contacting you or coming near you.
Here is what you need to do to get a restraining order:
- Try to be precise and detailed when filling out the application. Mention all dates that you recall as well as specific words that have been said to you. You should also mention important evidence in your application.
- When you have filled out the application, make two copies of it. Take the original application, one copy, and all other documents that you want to submit with your application and file it with the clerk of court.
- After you submit your application, the judge will ask you a few questions about the harassment you have been enduring. The judge might even grant a temporary restraining order if you are convinced that the perpetrator poses an immediate threat to your well-being.
- Take part in the final hearing to turn the temporary restraining order into a permanent one. Keep in mind that the harasser has the right to appear to court and defend themselves.
Filing a Civil Lawsuit
To file a civil lawsuit, you need to get an attorney that specializes in civil harassment cases. Gather as much evidence of harassment as you can, as it is easier to prove harassment in a civil court because you do not have to prove the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Civil lawsuits are typically filed to get the money that you need to cover the damage inflicted by the harasser. That is why you will also need to provide evidence of the damage caused by the harassment.
After you have collected the evidence and damages, you will need to:
- Make an allegations list with your attorney that you will try to prove in court
- Initiate the lawsuit by having your attorney take the complaint and file it with your local civil court
- Wait for the harasser to respond to your complaint.
- If the harasser does not respond, you will win the case by default
- If the case does not get settled, you will have to participate in the court hearing
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