Man stalking a woman and her boyfriend in the park
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By Michael Arbeit
Founding Attorney

In the state of New York, stalking is the crime of repeatedly following or contacting a person after being told to stop doing so. Harassment is intentionally annoying someone by following them or making them fear for their safety. 

Although these crimes are similar, they are not the same. Stalking is an ongoing pattern of behavior designed to put another person in fear. Harassment is any behavior intended to annoy or alarm another person. Both are serious charges with serious consequences if you are convicted. Here’s what you need to know about mounting your defense.

Stalking and Harassment

One reason you need an excellent criminal defense attorney is to make sure that you understand the charges against you and the potential outcomes if convicted.

Many different actions can constitute stalking. Following another person, calling them repeatedly, or surveilling them after being asked to stop are all typical examples of stalking. Harassment may involve following someone around in a public place, annoying or otherwise alarming them, or even physically striking them.

The basic difference between stalking and harassment is that harassment is an action or actions intended to annoy or distress another person, while stalking is a pattern of behavior that causes another person to fear for their safety.

Depending on the circumstances, stalking can be anything from a class B misdemeanor to a class D felony. Harassment can be either a violation or a class B misdemeanor, while aggravated harassment is either a class A misdemeanor or a class E felony.

Stalking in New York

The severity of a stalking charge depends on the conduct you are accused of. For example, stalking in the fourth degree is following someone around, tracking them, or calling them repeatedly in such a way as to make them fearful that you will harm them or someone close to them. 

However, if you are accused of stalking after having previously been convicted of a predicate crime against the same person or a family member within the previous ten years, you may be charged with third-degree stalking. Stalking while displaying a weapon is second-degree stalking. Causing a physical injury to a person while stalking them is first-degree stalking.

Conviction of fourth-degree stalking can result in a $500 fine and 90 days in a local jail, while a first-degree stalking conviction can mean a fine of $5,000 and up to seven years in prison.

Several different circumstances can escalate a stalking charge. Discuss your charges with your criminal defense attorney to understand them in more detail.

Harassment in New York

The severity of a harassment charge also depends on the specific conduct being alleged. For instance, following someone around in a public place can be charged as harassment in the first degree, but threatening them over the phone or by email can be charged as aggravated harassment. Penalties can range from a few months in jail to several years in prison.

As with stalking, you should discuss the specific charges with your criminal defense attorney.

The Importance of Legal Defense

Being charged with a crime is overwhelming and frightening, but an excellent criminal defense attorney can help level the playing field and give you a fighting chance against any charges.

Your attorney can defend against stalking or harassment charges by arguing that you did not engage in the conduct you are accused of or that you had no intention of putting anyone in fear and could not have known your actions would do so. If the police gathered evidence against you unconstitutionally, your attorney can argue that the court should throw out the evidence or dismiss the charges. If there is no way for you to win an acquittal, your attorney can negotiate to have the charges and penalties against you reduced so the consequences are less severe.

Stalking and harassment are not the same, but both charges can cause significant consequences on conviction. Contact Michael A. Arbeit, P.C. today to get the honest truth about the charges you are facing and fight for the best possible outcome.

About the Author
Michael A. Arbeit, P.C. is devoted to all Criminal Defense and  Traffic related matters.  Michael practices primarily in the Criminal and County (Supreme) Courts in Nassau County, Suffolk County, Queens County, Kings County, New York County and the Bronx County.  Michael is also licensed to practice law in the Federal Courts of the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) and the Southern District of New York (SDNY).