A criminal harassment charge can be levied against you in Massachusetts for several reasons. For you to be found guilty, prosecutors must show that you willfully and maliciously engaged in a pattern of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to feel emotional distress.
In most cases, the person who is charged knows the alleged victim. You might have been in a romantic relationship or a business partnership, and the other person desires you to stop contacting him or her but you did not stop. Or, you may have had no relationship with the person but a recent event caused you to contact the person more than one time, and he or she has gone to the police. Whatever the details of the relationship, it is a serious charge and you should treat it as such.
A judge will consider several factors to determine what your sentence will be. For example, she may consider how much harm was done to the victim, any remorse that was shown, your criminal history and other factors.
Conviction for Criminal Harassment
For you to be convicted of criminal harassment, the prosecution needs to prove four elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- Must show that you engaged in a pattern of conduct on at least three occasions that were directed at the alleged victim.
- Must show that the actions could cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress.
- Actions must have caused the alleged victim to be seriously alarmed.
- Must show that you engaged in such actions willfully and with malicious intent.
Under the laws of Massachusetts, ‘substantial emotional distress’ is required for you to be convicted of criminal harassment. This is something more than mere uneasiness, nervousness or unhappiness.
The conduct that needs to be directed towards the alleged victim three times or more includes any type of exchange, be it in person, by phone, email, letter or text message. However, if you sent an email to another person who then forwarded it to the alleged victim, this would not be direct contact.
If you are found guilty of criminal harassment in Massachusetts, you can be jailed for up to 2.5 years and given a fine of $1000 for a first offense. A second offense for criminal harassment can net you up to 10 years in jail.
As with most crimes in Massachusetts, the severity of the offense and your previous criminal history are major factors for the penalties you could face if charged with harassment. Depending upon the nature of the crime and your past, harassment can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor. You can face substantially more prison time if the harassment charge is a felony, so be certain to have a strong criminal defense attorney fighting for you, such as Attorney Nathan.
Order of Protection or Restraining Order
People who have been victims of abuse or harassment can petition the court for an Order of Protection or Restraining Order. The state of Massachusetts provides such victims with two types of relief: abuse prevention order and a harassment prevention order. both injunctions will require you to do or not do certain acts. If you do not comply with one of these orders, you can incur fines, probation and sometimes jail time. Abuse and harassment orders are most common in cases involving domestic violence, harassment and stalking.
Stalking Even More Serious
Stalking in Massachusetts is related to criminal harassment but is more serious. Stalking requires the prosecution to show that you made a threat with intent to make a person fear harm or death. If you are convicted of stalking in this state, you face up to five years in prison and a $1000 fine for a first offense.
If you are convicted of stalking in violation of a protection order, you will get a minimum mandatory sentence of two years and up to 10 years in prison.If you commit a stalking crime when you are in violation of a restraining order, you face a state prison sentence of at least one year.
To be convicted of stalking in Massachusetts, the prosecutor must prove the following five items:
- The defendant, over a certain period of time, engaged knowingly in a series of acts that involved three separate incidents at minimum against the alleged victim.
- The acts of the defendant could cause serious emotional distress for any reasonable person.
- The acts of the defendant caused the alleged victim to be alarmed or seriously annoyed.
- The defendant committed such acts willfully and maliciously. A willful act is one that is done with intention, but it does not require the defendant to have intended what happened. An accident or mistake is not a willful act. A malicious act is committed intentionally with no justification. If an act is defined as malicious, a reasonable person would be able to foresee the harm to the victim. Malice under the law does not require revenge, cruelty, hostility or intent to lead to harm.
- The defendant made threats that intended to put the victim in fear of injury or death. This aspect is often interpreted similarly to the common law definition of an assault allegation.
Note in recent years that the problem of cyberstalking has gotten more serious, and the legislative and judicial system in Massachusetts has taken notice. The legislature has defined stalking to include threats through electronic mail, Internet communications and instant messages. Also, the Massachusetts Supreme Court decided to extend domestic violence distractions to people who are in some form of online relationship. This is important because it allows a person to get a restraining order and similar measures against those they met online if they have been cyberstalked.
So What's Next
If you are facing a criminal harassment charge Massachusetts, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner. Attorney Geoffrey Nathan can help you to construct a rigorous defense. For a criminal defense legal consultation, please contact him at (617) 472-5775.