Maine's laws against stalking are harsh but they become harsher if the person you are alleged to have been stalking is someone close to you. In these cases, you can be charged with domestic violence stalking, rather than "normal" stalking.
Understanding how stalking law typically works is necessary to fully understand how it can apply in a domestic violence context.
Maine's Law Against Stalking
Maine's "normal" stalking law is found at Maine Revised Code 17-A §210-A.
The law prohibits knowingly engaging in a “course of conduct directed at or concerning a specific person that would cause a reasonable person” to:
- Suffer emotional distress or serious inconvenience;
- Fear getting hurt;
- Fear for family, close friends, lovers, business associates, or even pets; or
- Worry about his or her property.
There are several points to this law that bear explanation.
Acting Knowingly and Intentionally
Stalking requires that the actor "know" the conduct in which he or she engages. In the context of stalking, this means acting with an awareness that what you're doing is “practically certain” to produce the fear or emotional distress that are necessary to complete the offense of stalking.
Importantly, intentionally producing those effects is included because intentional conduct requires a more precise state of mind than conduct that is knowingly done. This can lead to some strange results though. For example, if someone's attempt at stalking were wayward and unlikely to produce fear or emotional distress, but those attempts were intentional, it would still be considered stalking.
A Course of Conduct
Stalking requires a “course of conduct.” A course of conduct involves two or more acts in which the stalker
- threatens, including threats that are nonverbal or are implied by conduct,
- communicates with, or
- gains unauthorized access to personal information about the victim.
Emotional Distress or Serious Inconvenience
Finally, the conduct has to cause a normal person to feel “serious inconvenience or emotional distress.”
Emotional distress means any of the following feelings or emotions:
Unlike in some other areas of the law, someone can feel emotional distress under Maine's stalking law even in the absence of a mental health diagnosis or a “physical manifestation” of his or her distress, like lack of sleep or an inability to eat.
Serious inconvenience, on the other hand, requires a victim to significantly modify his or her actions or routines to avoid the stalking. Modified actions could include the victim:
- changing his or her phone number or email address;
- moving or changing residencies;
- changing daily routines, including commute;
- leaving his or her job;
- changing a work schedule; and/or, among other possibilities,
- losing time at work.
Stalking Law in the Domestic Violence Context
Acts of stalking become more severe when they are done in the context of domestic violence.
Maine Revised Code 17-A §210-C is Maine's domestic violence stalking statute. It adds to the penalties that will be on the table if you are charged with stalking someone, and that conduct amounts to domestic violence.
Simply put, "stalking" becomes "domestic violence stalking" if it is done to a "family or household member." These people include:
- Spouses or former spouses
- Unmarried adults who live together, or who used to live together, in a long-term relationship
- People who are, or who were, living together as spouses
- People who have had a child together
- Blood relatives or relatives-in-law
- Minor children living in the same household as the adult defendant
- People who are living together, or who were living together in the past
- People who are or were sexual partners
If someone who has been accused of stalking is in any of these relationships with the alleged victim, the stalking charge turns into a charge of domestic violence stalking.
Penalties for Domestic Violence Stalking
Typically, domestic violence stalking is a Class D crime in Maine – the most severe type of what used to be called a misdemeanor in Maine. Convictions for domestic violence stalking carry up to 364 days in jail and up to $2,000 in fines.
However, a prior offense for domestic violence stalking or its equivalent – in Maine or elsewhere – increases the penalties for a conviction by enhancing the offense to a Class C crime. Class C crimes carry up to five years in jail and up to $5,000 in fines.
Additionally, a domestic violence stalking offense can become a Class C crime if a defendant has a prior conviction on his or her record of violating a restraining order or their terms of release from prison, or a prior conviction of domestic violence assault.
Defenses to a Charge of Domestic Violence Stalking
The standard for what constitutes domestic violence stalking in Maine is disturbingly low, and the penalties for a conviction are not trivial. Raising effective legal arguments that cast doubt on your guilt and/or show you are innocent and did not commit the crime is an essential part of your defense strategy.
In some stalking cases, the victim is blowing out of proportion trivial conduct on purpose. False accusations are made when, for example, the purported victim has a personal vendetta against you or wants to get you in trouble for some reason.
Domestic violence allegations are full of these situations where the purported victim uses the justice system for his or her own purposes.
What constitutes stalking under Maine's stalking law is very low. Completely normal and innocent conduct could be construed as stalking if you think about it too much. For example, making eye contact on the bus more than once could be interpreted as stalking. Arguing that the conduct is innocent could persuade a jury that the allegations don't fit the alleged conduct.
The Reasonable Person Standard
Similarly, the conduct that allegedly rises to the level of stalking has to create fear or emotional distress to a reasonable person. If this were not the case, paranoid people would be putting dozens of innocent people behind bars.
Showing that what you did would not have caused the necessary fear, emotional distress, or serious inconvenience to a reasonable person is often a fundamental part of a defense strategy to a stalking allegation. The alleged victim's past, including any stalking claims he or she has previously made, can provide strong support for this defense. Calling character witnesses to the stand to show that what you did was completely innocuous and that the purported victim is overreacting to normal conduct is a normal part of this defense.
Domestic Violence Stalking Defense at WTB Law
The criminal defense lawyers at WTB Law strive to represent people who have been accused of domestic violence stalking. These allegations are heavy and can ruin someone's life if allowed to progress too far. Raising effective legal defenses and showing that the conduct does not fit the allegations can protect your future from a serious criminal conviction.
With the help of an attorney from WTB Law, you can fight for your future by invoking your rights.
Contact us online or call our attorneys at our Portland or Biddeford law offices at (207) 571-8146 if you have been arrested and accused of stalking in Portland, Biddeford, Bangor, Saco, or Augusta.