Understanding What Constitutes Stalking in Maryland
Many Maryland residents are charged with stalking each year, and sadly some of them are not actually guilty of the crime. While all crime is bad, the fact is stalking is a tough crime to define. While the law does a good job of trying to strike a balance, over-eager prosecutors and spiteful individuals sometimes make up stories or misinterpret behavior.
Our office represents people charged with criminal offenses throughout Anne Arundel, Howard, and Baltimore Counties. If you’ve been charged with any form of stalking, harassment, or domestic violence, call us today to set up a consultation to discuss your case.
What is Stalking in Maryland?
Section 3-802 of Maryland’s Criminal Law defines stalking as a “malicious course of conduct” whereby the offender intends to threaten or place another in fear or danger. Importantly, to qualify as “stalking,” the offender must act with intent, meaning he or she must actually intend to be putting the victim in “reasonable” fear of harm. This is a difficult element to prove in many cases. Simply being around the victim or shopping in a public place where the victim frequently shops is not enough. Likewise, the fear must be reasonable.
What is Fear of Harm?
The law also says to be stalking, the victim must be placed in direct fear of:
- Serious physical injury
- Rape or sexual assault
- False imprisonment (being restrained or kept from freely moving about) and/or
The facts must demonstrate that the victim is reasonably likely to suffer one of these harms.
What is a “Course of Conduct?”
Maryland courts have explained that an isolated act is not generally enough to prove stalking. Going to an ex’s house one time to gather personal items after a break-up is almost never stalking. Continuing to follow, call, or intimidate that person weeks or months after a breakup may be, however. Courts have also clarified that there must be some intentional act, such as approaching the victim or pursuing the victim.
On the other hand, physical contact is not necessarily required. Writing messages, letters, or social media posts can be enough, depending on the facts.
Penalties for Stalking
Sadly, many horrible crimes and murders have been committed by people who displayed signs of stalking. Therefore, the law has become very strict in this area, in an effort to deter and stop bad crimes before they happen. The penalties are indeed harsh for stalking. A first offense can result in a misdemeanor with up to 5 years in prison and a fine up to $5,000.
Defending a Stalking Charge?
Many relationships are doomed from the start. Sometimes the parties live in close proximity or share the same friend circle. If you’ve been charged with stalking, there may be a way to show that your conduct was not intentional. Perhaps the victim has misinterpreted your behavior, or there is a reasonable explanation other than the intent to intimidate or harm the individual. At the Law Offices of Todd K. Mohink, P.A., we will explore your options and help determine whether you have a strong defense. Never talk to police without an attorney, and don’t plead guilty to something until you’ve weighed all of your options.