THE MISUNDERSTOOD CRIME OF STALKING

  
In Georgia, criminal laws are often misunderstood or just ignored. The laws addressing the act of stalking should not be in that category. Many good men and women go to jail because of stalking and the most serious version of this type of offense, aggravated stalking.

Because of space limitations, this is a nutshell version of the topic of stalking in Georgia. However, there are some plain terms used in Georgia stalking law that are important to understand when thinking about a serious charge like this.

1. CONTACT: You must contact another person to be charged with the offense of stalking. There are many definitions, interpretations, and arguments about what is and is not “contact.” Contact can be direct (Reaching someone, not only in person, but also by phone, broadcast, mail, or computer) or indirect such as through a third party.

2. HARRASS OR INTIMIDATE: This consists of causing the alleged victim emotional distress by putting them in fear of their (or their family’s) safety, by establishing a pattern of harassing and intimidating behavior for no legitimate reason.
(Always be careful when thinking about the word “legitimate.” An accused’s definition of a legitimate reason may be different than the police officer’s view).

The most common way that someone can be accused of stalking in Georgia is when they allegedly put someone under surveillance or contact them without their permission to harass or intimidate them.

STALKING PENALTIES
If a person is charged with stalking, it will be treated as a misdemeanor for the first offense. The maximum penalty is up to a $1000 fine and 12 months in jail.

If a person is accused of a second or subsequent stalking offense, the case will be charged as a felony and the person will face up to 10 years in prison.

AGGRAVATED STALKING
This offense is the most serious and unfortunately the most common form of stalking.
A person may be found guilty of aggravated stalking if they put someone under surveillance or contact them in violation of a protective order (temporary or permanent), restraining order (temporary or permanent), probation, parole terms, or preliminary or permanent injunction.

In other words, if a person has been ordered by the court to stay away from another person and not contact them, but the defendant continues to harass them, there is a good chance that an aggravated stalking warrant will be signed by a judge. (By the way, this form of behavior is also terribly disrespectful to the judge who signed the original order. Under these circumstances, bond can be very difficult.)

AGGRAVATED STALKING PENALTIES
Aggravated stalking is a serious felony. If a person is convicted, he or she will be facing 1-20 years in prison.
The reason that this offense is so common is probably tied to family problems, divorce, family violence, and other strong unhealthy emotions that people have. Unfortunately, I have seen many good people over the years engage in an emotional downward spiral that eventually leads to aggravated stalking charges.

Fortunately, judges in Georgia are beginning to see the value of psychological and/or psychiatric evaluations coupled with treatment before disposition in some of these cases. This has two benefits:
1. The victim can be protected if the defendant’s mental health improves (no one is going to just be locked away forever); and
2. The defendant gains access to the mental health treatment that may be at the very core of his or her unacceptable behavior.

I will leave you with this. Remember that you do not have to threaten the alleged victim to be convicted of stalking or aggravated stalking. In this era of social media, smartphones, and instant communication, it is very easy to be accused of contacting a person for the purposes of stalking by just pushing a button