Have you been Charged with Stalking in Georgia?
Privacy is one of the fundamental rights that are guaranteed to us under the Constitution. Stalking is one of the crimes that threaten that right, and some examples include following someone, driving by someone's house, work, or school, secretly photographing or videotaping someone, sending unwanted texts, emails, letters, or gifts, or threatening a person or their family.
Emotions and tensions run high with stalking cases, and it is important to have an Attorney that can help you deal with those stresses. Lawson and Berry and their team of Georgia Stalking Attorneys have years of experience and are well equipped to assist you with your case. A charge is not the same as a conviction so protect yourself and your loved ones by calling an experienced Lawyer today.
Georgia Law on Stalking
The crime of stalking is set out in O.C.G.A. §16-5-90 and states that a person will be convicted when he or she follows, places under surveillance, or contacts another person at or about a place or places without the consent of the other person for the purpose of harassing and intimidating the other person.
The Court has broken down contact to include “any communication including without being limited to communication in person, by telephone, by mail, by broadcast, by computer, by computer network, or by any other electronic device…” O.C.G.A. §16-5-90(a)
Also, the term “harassing and intimidating” has been defined as “a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes emotional distress by placing such person in reasonable fear for such person's safety or the safety of a member of his or her immediate family, by establishing a pattern of harassing and intimidating behavior, and which serves no legitimate purpose.” O.C.G.A. 16-5-90(a)
The other way a person can be convicted of stalking is if they violate an order to keep the peace such as a temporary restraining order, temporary protective order, or any other order issued by the Court preventing the harassment or intimidation of another person through broadcasts or publishment. This includes electronic publication where the name, picture, address, or phone number of a person was posted without the person's consent in such a manner that causes other persons to harass or intimidate such person and the person making the broadcast or publication knew or had reason to believe that their action would cause such person to be harassed or intimidated. O.C.G.A. §16-5-90(b)
A defendant was convicted of stalking in the case of Johnson v. Smith, 250 Ga. App. 722, (2003). The victim was a minor, and the defendant repeatedly placed her under surveillance at a local high school, took pictures of her, and shouted at her. The victim became distressed at his actions, and her mother demanded that he cease his behavior and reported him to school officials. Further, the suspect contacted the victim's mother at her workplace to talk to her. During the trial, the defendant argued that there was no evidence proving that he was stalking the victim. However, the Court thought there was sufficient evidence showing that he would shout at her during school and would take pictures of her. Based on this evidence, the Court entered a protective order that prohibited the defendant from contacting the victim or any member of her family and from coming within 50 yards of her.
A defendant was acquitted of a stalking charge when he argued that there was insufficient evidence to establish the elements of stalking. Ramsey v. Middleton, 310 Ga. App. 300, (2011). In this case, the two parties had a personal relationship 15 years ago. At the time of the action, the defendant had a contract with the local school system to paint the school, and the victim's children attended one of the schools he was painting. The victim began getting suspicious when she would see him in the same areas where she would be picking up her children from school. She said that the accused never spoke to her or threatened her when she saw him on school property but that she always saw him. During the trial, the accused argued that there was not enough evidence showing that he was guilty of stalking. The Court agreed that there was insufficient evidence to establish a pattern of harassing and intimidating. The sign that the victim and accused would be in the same place at the same time was the only evidence presented and did not meet the standard for stalking. Therefore, the accused was acquitted of his stalking charge.
What Has to be Proven to be Found Guilty?
To be convicted of stalking, the State must demonstrate that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This includes showing that there is a pattern of harassing and intimidating the victim.
Penalty for a Stalking Conviction
A person who commits the offense of stalking will be guilty of a misdemeanor. However, a second or successive conviction will be classified as a felony and will face a penalty of incarceration for a term of one to ten years. O.C.G.A. §16-5-90(c)
Also before a conviction for stalking, a judge may require the defendant undergo a psychological evaluation, and the judge is allowed to consider the entire criminal record of the accused. During the sentencing, the judge may place a permanent restraining order against the accused to protect the victim from being stalked as well as their family. If the defendant has not undergone a psychological evaluation beforehand, the judge is authorized to require psychological treatment as a part of the sentence, or as a condition for suspension of the sentence, or probation. O.C.G.A. §16-5-90(d)
Defenses to Stalking
Mistaken Identify: There is a possibility that the victim identified the wrong person as their stalker. If you can prove it was someone else, then that would be an excellent defense for your case.
Consent: If you received permission from the person to photograph them, then any evidence of that would be deeply beneficial to your case.
Lack of Intent: The statute outlines that the defendant must undertake a knowing and willful course of conduct to cause emotional distress to a person. Your Attorney will work to show that you unknowingly created emotional distress in attempts to get the stalking charge dropped.
A reasonable person would not have been distressed by the conduct: Demonstrating that the conduct would not have been enough to upset a reasonable person could help your case.
It was a one-time offense: Harassing and intimidating requires showing that there was a pattern of harassing and intimidating behavior. If the incident only happened one time, your Lawyer will work with you to show the Court that it was an accident and that it will not happen again.
What are not Defenses
No harm was done to the victim: There is no requirement that the victim has to suffer an injury at the hands of the defendant. Any harassment or intimidation tactics will be sufficient grounds to be convicted.
The communications were only over the Internet, never in person: The Court has defined contact to include any communications over the Internet. Any unwanted contact or disclosing information about the victim over the Internet will be enough evidence for a conviction.
Having competent representation is of up the utmost importance when facing a criminal charge. Your Georgia Stalking Attorney will investigate all the details surrounding your case and evaluate your options. They will be available all the time to you – even nights and weekends – because your case is important. Lawson and Berry and their team of Stalking Lawyers will work with you to fight your charge and avoid a conviction. Call today and schedule a free consultation.