All fifty states have laws that address stalking crimes. Is stalking a felony in Missouri? It depends, but if you’re charged with a stalking crime in the St. Louis area, you must contact a Jefferson County stalking attorney at once for the legal advice and services you will need.
What is the legal definition of stalking in Missouri? When is a stalking crime a misdemeanor, and when is stalking charged as a felony in this state? If you are charged with stalking, what are your legal rights, and how will a criminal defense attorney fight the charge on your behalf?
If you’ll continue to read this short introduction to stalking, your rights, and the law in Missouri, you will find the answers you may need, but if you’re actually charged with stalking in or near St. Louis, you’ll also need to contact a Jefferson County stalking lawyer as quickly as possible.
What Are the Statistics?
The number of stalking victims in this nation surpasses six million every year, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime. Those victims include approximately one of every six women in the U.S. and one of every nineteen men.
Domestic violence and stalking are usually but not always linked. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 66 percent of female victims and 41 percent of male victims are stalked by a former or current intimate partner.
The National Institute of Justice reports that more than four out of five women who’ve been stalked by a former or current intimate partner were also assaulted by that partner.
What Constitutes Stalking in Missouri?
Celebrities are not the only people who have stalkers, but as the figures cited above indicate, the majority of stalking cases are linked to domestic abuse or child custody cases. A stalker might repeatedly make threatening calls to an ex-spouse or show up at that ex-spouse’s workplace.
Every stalking case is different, but generally speaking, stalking is behavior – repeated behavior – which has no legitimate purpose but which frightens, alarms, disturbs, or causes fear or anxiety in another person, including but not limited to:
- following someone
- appearing unexpectedly or driving past someone’s home, school, or workplace
- tracking someone secretly with a GPS device
- secretly keeping track of someone’s cell phone and/or online activity
- sending unwanted or unsolicited gifts, mail, email, and/or texts
- making a recording or photo of someone without that person’s consent or knowledge
- threatening someone and/or his or her friends, family, co-workers, pets, or property
- vandalism against someone’s home or property
Because these behaviors constitute probable cause under Missouri law, police officers in this state have the legal authority to arrest someone for stalking on the basis of these behaviors and without an arrest warrant.
What Happens When Someone Reports Stalking?
The law in Missouri obligates police agencies to respond immediately to a report of stalking if the caller confirms any or all of these conditions:
- Violence is imminent or in progress.
- A protection order (or “restraining” order) is in effect.
- There is a history of violence in the relationship between the parties.
If stalking has occurred, the victim may ask a court for a temporary restraining order against the alleged stalker. Temporary restraining orders stay in effect typically for fifteen days or for as long as the court deems necessary.
What Happens When a Temporary Restraining Order is Issued?
To obtain a temporary restraining order, a purported stalking victim must persuade a judge that he or she will suffer harm without the issuance of a restraining order. If the judge is persuaded, the order may be issued on the spot, without a hearing and without informing the alleged stalker.
A temporary restraining order will stay in effect until the court conducts a hearing on whether to grant a full protection order. Full protection orders can stay in effect for as long as a year, and they may be renewed upon the approval of the court.
What Are Missouri’s Stalking Charges and Penalties?
The first violation of a restraining order is charged as a Class A misdemeanor. A second violation of a restraining order within five years of a first conviction will be charged as a Class D felony. The penalties for a conviction are the same as the penalties for a stalking conviction.
A first stalking offense in Missouri is a Class A misdemeanor, which may be penalized upon conviction with time in jail and/or a fine, but a second stalking offense within five years will be charged as a Class D felony and may be penalized on conviction with a lengthy prison sentence.
How Will Your Attorney Defend You Against a Stalking Allegation?
To convict a defendant of stalking, a Missouri prosecutor must prove that defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A Jefferson County stalking attorney will challenge the prosecution’s case and offer an effective, aggressive defense on a defendant’s behalf.
If you are charged with stalking in Missouri, depending on the details of the case, your lawyer may defend you by insisting that:
- You made no threats.
- The purported victim didn’t suffer psychological distress.
- You spoke only once with the purported victim.
- A reasonable person would not have taken your actions or words seriously.
- Another person did the stalking or threatening, and you’ve been misidentified.
- No stalking or threats occurred, and the accusation is false.
If you’re innocent, but the case cannot be dismissed, insist on a jury trial. Your attorney will tell the jury what actually occurred and why you should be acquitted. But if the state’s case is strong and a stalking conviction is certain, your lawyer will negotiate for an acceptable plea deal.
What Else Should You Know About Stalking in Missouri?
If the police take you into custody on a stalking charge, do not argue with or resist the police officers. Instead, insist politely on your right to remain silent and your right to have an attorney present for any interrogation.
You can simply say to the police officers, “I would prefer not to answer any questions until my attorney can be present,” and then say no more.
Then, at the first opportunity, contact a Jefferson County stalking lawyer who will examine the prosecution’s evidence and the case against you, explain your options, protect your legal rights, and fight aggressively for the best possible outcome to your case.