What Is The Legal Definition Of “Stalking?”

If you’re alive in the 21st century, then you’ve probably heard a friend say they’re being stalked. The person most likely made this comment in jest. But stalking is a very real crime with very real legal ramifications. What is the legal definition of “stalking” and what are the legal consequences? Read further to find out.

According to the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), the legal definition of “stalking” means “engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of others or suffer substantial emotional distress.”

Familiar with the law? You might recognize similarities between “stalking” and “assault.” Both legal terms are used to describe distress, usually by an individual. Both legal terms describe a sense of danger, usually by the same individual. The primary difference is that stalking encompasses a broader pattern while assault describes what is usually a single event. A person might also be charged with “harassment.”

Have you been stalked? Please refer to the DOJ for additional resources. Call 911 if you are in immediate danger!

The legal penalties for stalking vary by state. Usually, defendants are penalized severely only when prior offenses are on record. An individual charged with stalking might expect anything from a small fine to significant jail time. It is not unusual to receive a call from a detective before charges are placed. Cases revolving around harassment are not unusual, and so public officials try to limit resource expenditures on non-serious threats.

A victim of stalking might request or be granted a writ of protection. This document alerts the victim of next steps should the stalking continue and also lets the stalker know when an arrest is imminent. But basically the writ of protection is just a friendly reminder to obey the law or face the consequences. Restraining orders are sometimes, but not often, granted in stalking cases.