In many ways, the crimes of harassment and stalking are very similar. Both of them involve following, intimidating, or repeatedly communicating with another person who doesn’t want the attention. The intent requirements are also quite similar. Beyond this, these crimes are a bit different in many ways, including in how they are punished, with stalking having a higher potential penalties.
Because of the way these laws are written, you can likely be charged with both crimes. It is important to talk to an attorney if you have been charged with any crime. The Queens stalking and harassment attorneys at Sullivan and Galleshaw may be able to take your case and help get charges reduced, dropped, or dismissed at trial.
NY Stalking and Harassment Law Overlaps
Both stalking, under NY Penal Law § 120, and harassment, under § 240, make it a crime to interact with others in threatening, annoying, or dangerous ways. Much of the conduct that is criminalized overlaps between these laws. Additionally, many of the requirements for the mental state of the actor are quite similar.
Harassment in the second degree (§ 240.26) and stalking in the fourth degree (§ 120.45) make it illegal to follow someone else. When people commonly think of a stalker, they think of someone who follows someone around – but it could also be harassment. The way that these statutes are written, the conduct of following is involved, but the laws target different things. The harassment law makes it illegal, specifically, to follow someone with the intent to harass them. On the other hand, the stalking law makes it illegal to cause mental or emotional harm by following someone. The stalking offense targets the mental or emotional harm rather than the following, which makes these separate offenses that overlap.
Similarly, many of the harassment statutes criminalize anonymous or repeated communications. They also cover any other repeated acts which annoy or harass someone – which can include things like texts or phone calls. Stalking in the fourth degree again punishes the mental or emotional harm, which can be caused by communications.
Because harassment focuses on the acts themselves (striking someone, following them, calling them) and stalking focuses on the effect that the actions causes (fear of physical harm, mental or emotional harm, or fear that they will be the victim of a crime), the laws are technically distinct. This is very similar to how theft merely requires taking something, but robbery is the crime of taking something by force or threat of force. Because of the additional elements, the crimes are separate.
Stalking is a More Serious Crime than Harassment
Because of its broad language, harassment can cover a lot of conduct. Simple conduct like strikes and shoves (short of assault), continually bothering someone, following someone around and yelling at them, or constantly texting someone could all be the crime of harassment. In many cases, the penalty for low-level harassment charges is only a $250 fine. On the other hand, stalking usually requires very specific conduct, with specific motives, and has higher penalties.
This is not to say that stalking is the “more serious version” of harassment, because the crimes do sometimes cover very different topics. Aggravated harassment in the first degree (§ 240.31) is very different from stalking, as it covers actions taken as a result of the victim’s “race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation.” This is basically a hate crime charge that aims to punish racist or sexist crimes. For instance, this makes it a crime to damage religious property, burn a cross, or draw swastikas with the intent to threaten or harass. Stalking is focused more on repetitive actions aimed at the individual victim, not the victim’s race.
Only the highest level of harassment, aggravated harassment in the first degree (as well as harassment by a prison or hospital inmate) is a felony. Both stalking in the second degree (§ 120.55) and stalking in the first degree (§ 120.60) are felonies. This means that there is a potential for higher punishments for a crime of stalking than there are for harassment. To put it in perspective, the worse punishments available for a first offense for harassment are up to four years in prison and fines up to $5,000. For the worst version of stalking, where the actor intentionally injures the victim, the crime is punished with up to seven years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Queens, NY Criminal Defense Attorneys
The Queens criminal defense lawyers at Sullivan and Galleshaw fight to protect the rights of the accused. If you or a loved one was charged with a harassment or stalking crime – or both – talk to an attorney today. Our lawyers offer free consultations on new cases to see how we may be able to fight your case. For strategic representation, and to schedule your free consultation, call (800) 730-0135 today.