Stalking and harassment are serious offenses in Maryland. The worst-case scenario is almost five years in prison and a permanent stain on your record. The potentially harsh penalties for stalking and harassment in Maryland mean you should fight these charges.
Stalking and harassment take many forms. People are often unaware of the differences between the offenses. An experienced Maryland harassment defense lawyer can help you deal with a charge of stalking or harassment.
How is Stalking Defined Under Maryland Law?
Stalking is defined under Section 3-802 of the Maryland Code. Stalking means a “malicious course of conduct” that includes approaching or pursuing another person. The alleged stalker must have been aware of the possible effects of his or her actions on the victim.
To convict a person of stalking charges in Maryland, a judge or jury will look for evidence that the suspect intended, knew, or reasonably should have known the conduct in question would place the victim in reasonable fear of:
- An assault of any degree
- Serious bodily injury
- Rape, attempted rape, or another sexual offense
- False imprisonment.
- Serious emotional distress.
Maryland legislators beefed up the state’s stalking law in 2016. The wider legislation put scenarios where the defendant “intends to cause or knows or reasonably should have known that the conduct would cause serious emotional distress to another” into state law. The law sets out exceptions where the act or acts in question are:
- Performed to comply with a court order;
- Performed to execute a specific lawful commercial purpose; or
- Are required, authorized, or protected by local, state, or federal law.
What Is the Penalty for Stalking in Maryland?
Stalking is a misdemeanor in Maryland. If a court convicts you of stalking, you will face a term of imprisonment of up to 5 years and or a fine of up to $5,000, or both penalties. The sentence imposed under Maryland’s stalking law may run concurrent to another crime linked to the stalking or it could be added to run consecutively.
Harassment vs. Stalking in Maryland
The crimes of harassment and stalking are not the same in Maryland. Stalking is the more serious crime. Stalking in Maryland carries a longer potential prison penalty and fine. Repeated annoying conduct may be enough to bring a harassment charge but stops short of stalking.
How is Harassment Defined Under Maryland Law?
Harassment is defined under 3-803 of the Maryland Code. The law states a person may commit an offense if they follow another person in a public place or “maliciously engage” in repeated conduct that seriously annoys or alarms the victim. Police will consider whether the suspect had the following:
- An intention to alarm, harass, or annoy the other party;
- An unwillingness to stop his or her actions after a reasonable warning or a request to stop by the other person
- The action was without a legal purpose.
The law makes an exception for people who are providing information or expressing a political view. You may feel annoyed or alarmed by the Jehovah’s Witness who crosses the parking lot to hand you information or the election canvasser who comes to your door. However, these people have a First Amendment right to free speech. They will not be charged with harassment as long as they take part in “peaceable activity.”
What is the Penalty for Harassment in Maryland?
Harassment is a misdemeanor offense. A first offense carries a potential term of imprisonment of up 90 days, a fine of up to $500 or both. A second or further crime of harassment carries a prison term of up to 180 days, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
Misuse of a Telephone in Stalking and Harassment Cases
Maryland also has a law relating to the misuse of telephone facilities and equipment. It is closely linked to stalking or harassment. Under Section 3-804 of the Maryland Code, you can commit a misdemeanor offense by making threatening or harassing phone calls. Misuse of telephone calls is considered as:
- A single anonymous call made with the intention of harassing, tormenting, abusing, embarrassing or annoying another person.
- Making repeated calls with the same intentions
- A phone call that becomes lascivious, indecent, obscene, lewd or suggestive.
People convicted of misuse of a telephone in Maryland face a misdemeanor penalty, a fine of up to $500, and may face up to three years in prison.
Are Threatening Text Messages Considered Harassment in Maryland?
Most young people seldom talk on the telephone anymore. They are more likely to send text messages or communicate via social media. Maryland enacted an offense of misuse of electronic mail in 2013. It’s an offense to maliciously engage in a “course of conduct” via electronic communication that seriously annoys or alarms another person if:
- The behavior is intended to alarm, harass, or annoy the other person
- The behavior continues after the perpetrator received a reasonable warning or a request to stop and,
- It’s without legal purpose.
The offense covers any “interactive computer service.” That includes a laptop, an iPad, or a smartphone.
It’s an offense to use online networks to maliciously engage in a course of conduct that causes serious emotional distress to a minor or results in the minor fearing death or serious bodily injury. The offense of misuse of electronic mail in Maryland does not include providing information or technical assistance to another person when it’s authorized by the state or the federal government or when it’s subject to a court order. The law also makes an exception for a peaceable activity that’s meant to express a political view or to provide information to others.
What Are the Penalties for Misuse of Electronic Mail in Maryland?
Misuse of electronic mail in Maryland is a misdemeanor. It carries a possible prison term of up to a year, a fine of up to $500 or both.
Fighting Stalking and Harassment Charges in Maryland
There are many gray areas in the crimes of stalking and harassment in Maryland. These are not cut and dry offenses. When a robbery or a killing occurs, police typically have strong, irrefutable evidence that the crime took place. However, one person’s perception of the crime of stalking or harassment can be different from another’s. This is particularly the case with the new widening of Maryland’s stalking law to include conduct that causes serious emotional distress. Conduct that causes serious emotional distress in one person may not bother someone else.
The crimes of stalking and harassment are very subjective. You should consult a Maryland criminal defense lawyer if you are charged as soon as possible.
The rapid growth of digital communications adds a whole new dimension to stalking and harassment in Maryland. It’s very easy to send a message or a text you may later regret. It’s also easy for someone to take your message out of context. People have even been arrested for sending Emojis judged to be threatening.
Intent is important in these cases. It’s not enough for the prosecution to show mere conduct. The prosecutor must show you intended to harass, alarm, annoy or threaten the victim. Often police fail to look at the evidence when they make arrests for stalking and harassment in Maryland. They take the word of the person who called 911. However, there is a fine line between bothering and harassment. Annoying behavior in itself does not amount to harassment or stalking.
Talk to Maryland Stalking + Harassment Defense Lawyer Randolph Rice Today
Your criminal defense lawyer has plenty of leeway in these cases to question the basis of the change. Harassment and stalking charges may stem from behavior that is not criminal.
Please talk to a seasoned Baltimore stalking and harassment lawyer as soon as possible. Call Rice, Murtha & Psoras at (410) 834-1350.