Most domestic violence offenses, as defined by Washington law, involve the use or imminent threat of violence. The offense of “stalking,” however does not require prosecutors to prove that a defendant put an alleged victim in danger, just fear of harm. This can lead to serious consequences for people charged with this alleged offense. If you are accused of stalking in Tacoma or elsewhere in western Washington, you should consult a domestic violence lawyer with knowledge of Washington’s criminal laws and experience in its court system.
Domestic Violence in Washington
“Domestic violence” is not a distinct offense in Washington criminal law, but rather a broad category of offenses committed against a family or household member, or someone with whom the defendant has or has had a dating relationship. These alleged offenses include potentially violent crimes like assault, kidnapping, rape, and burglary, but also include offenses related to harassment, such as criminal trespass and stalking.
Stalking as Domestic Violence
“Stalking” is a form of criminal harassment under Washington law. The state broadly defines “harassment” as consisting of threats to cause imminent or future bodily harm to a person, to damage the person’s property, to confine or restrain the person, or to do any other act “intended to substantially harm [someone] with respect to his or her physical or mental health or safety.” Wash. Crim. Code § 9A.46.020(1)(a). The prosecution must prove that the alleged actions placed the victim in reasonable fear that the defendant would carry out the threats, and that the defendant knew the victim would have this fear.
The Criminal Code defines stalking as “intentionally and repeatedly harass[ing] or repeatedly follow[ing]” someone. Wash. Crim. Code § 9A.46.110(1)(a). The statute also requires proof that the victim felt fear or intimidation, and that the defendant knew of this.
Prosecutors must prove a complicated set of facts related to what the defendant knew or intended in a stalking prosecution, but this can make defending against a stalking charge difficult. Critically, a prosecutor does not have to prove that the alleged victim was in any danger of actual harm, or even that the defendant intended harm. The prosecutor must prove, first, that the alleged victim felt reasonable fear of harm, meaning that an ordinary person, upon experiencing the defendant’s alleged conduct, would feel afraid or intimidated. Second, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant knew, or should have known, that the alleged victim would feel this fear or intimidation. These are all very fact-intensive questions, and depend on careful presentation of the circumstances of the alleged offense.
Defense of a Stalking Prosecution
The stalking statute specifically excludes two defenses: that the alleged victim never gave notice to the defendant to stop whatever they were allegedly doing; and that the defendant did not intend to cause fear, intimidation, or harassment. The only “intent” element in the stalking statute is the intent to commit the acts deemed harassing. The case therefore depends on the subjective perception of the alleged victim. A defense of a stalking charge therefore involves (1) challenging the factual allegations of the prosecutions, and then (2) challenging whether a “reasonable” person would consider the alleged actions of the defendant to be threatening. Witness testimony is critical, and the prior relationship between the defendant and the alleged victim is a major issue.
Criminal defense attorney Timothy L. Healy has over fifteen years’ experience representing defendants charged with crimes including alleged domestic violence offenses in Tacoma, Pierce County, and elsewhere in Washington state. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team, contact us today online or at (888) 312-3093.