How Does Virginia Protect Against Stalking?
Under the Virginia Criminal Code, stalking is an offense that involves repeated and unwelcome contact. Existing in both misdemeanor and felony versions, the intention of stalking is to place a victim in reasonable fear of harm or injury. Stalking laws in Virginia protect a person’s family and household members.
What is the Virginia Definition of Stalking?
Code of Virginia Section 18.2-60.3 defines what qualifies as stalking. Under this section, a person commits stalking if they:
- Engage in conduct directed at a victim or their family or household member(s);
- Demonstrate an intent to create reasonable fear of death, criminal sexual assault, or other physical harm; and
- Act in this way on more than one occasion.
In this context, there is an important analysis concerning intent. This analysis applies when a victim tells the perpetrator to stop following or contacting them. If the perpetrator ignores this warning and continues stalking the victim, it can serve as evidence of an intent to create reasonable fear of death, criminal sexual assault, or other physical harm.
What are the Exceptions to Stalking in Virginia?
Section 18.2-60.3 does establish several exceptions to stalking laws. Specifically, these laws do not apply to:
- Law enforcement officers, as defined in Code of Virginia Section 9.1-101, who are performing their official duties; or
- Private investigators, as defined in Code of Virginia Section 9.1-138, who are registered and acting in the course of their legitimate business.
Both law enforcement officers and private investigators are allowed to conduct their official duties or legitimate business without worrying about stalking charges. But, if they act outside of their established duties or business, stalking charges may be appropriate.
What are the Virginia Penalties for Stalking?
Section 18.2-60.3 also provides the Virginia penalties for stalking. Under this section, stalking is ordinarily a Class 1 misdemeanor. Upon conviction for this class of misdemeanor in Virginia, the punishment can include $2,500 in criminal fines and 12 months in county jail, either or both.
That being said, repeat offenders face a different penalty scheme. Any person who commits stalking a second or subsequent time will face Class 6 felony charges. Upon conviction for this class of felony in Virginia, the punishment can include $2,500 in criminal fines and one to five years in prison, either or both.
In addition to the criminal penalties described above, stalking offenses often lead to protective orders as well. Often referred to as restraining orders, these legal devices allow the Virginia courts to prohibit further stalking and order a host of other remedies.
Do You Need Legal Help?
If you have legal questions about criminal charges for stalking or other offenses under the Virginia Criminal Code, it can be helpful to schedule a consultation with a Leesburg criminal defense lawyer. The team at Simms Showers LLP is prepared to assist you today. Contact us for help with your case.