Criminal harassment is usually confined to state law, which has a wide variety of criminal laws forbidding harassment in many forms, including general harassment crimes as well as specific forms of harassment, such as stalking and cyberstalking. Generally, criminal harassment entails intentionally targeting someone else with behavior that is meant to alarm, annoy, torment or terrorize them. Most state laws require that the behavior cause a credible threat to the person’s safety or their family’s safety. Harassment charges can range from misdemeanor to high level felony charges depending on the circumstances. The following are common types of criminal harassment:
- Stalking and Menacing. Stalking generally refers to a clear pattern of conduct through which the perpetrator causes the victim reasonable fear for their safety or their family’s safety. In some states, “stalking” is specified as a separate offense from harassment. Other states include both harassment and stalking under a single general statute.
- Interstate stalking is a federal crime. Some states punish stalking as a form of “menacing.” Menacing can often include ongoing actions, such as stalking someone, which cause reasonable fear in the victim. Menacing also often includes single acts which are purposefully intended to create a reasonable fear in someone, such as brandishing a weapon.
- Some states have enacted specific laws against stalking someone online. “Cyberstalking” generally refers to stalking someone through the internet, email, text messages, or other means of electronic communication.
- Harassment and restraining Orders. While prosecutors can charge someone with criminal harassment, victims of abuse or harassment may also petition the court for a restraining order. Violation of these court orders may constitute a separate criminal offense, and may also increase the severity of a charge.
Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or substitute for the advice of a lawyer.