Understanding Stalking as a Crime in Colorado
Being annoying is not a crime. Neither is bothering someone. But the crime of stalking in Colorado is not about annoyance or bother – it is about fear. It is about creating a sense of danger and emotional distress in the victim by engaging in repeated conduct that involves threats or unwanted communication or contact. Stalking is a serious crime in Colorado, with prosecutors taking a very aggressive approach in such cases.
The reason stalking is prosecuted so vigorously was set forth by Colorado’s legislature when it passed the state’s anti-stalking law, known as “Vonnie’s Law.” The legislature “recognizes the seriousness posed by stalking and adopts the [anti-stalking law] with the goal of encouraging and authorizing effective intervention before stalking can escalate into behavior that has even more serious consequences.”
Stalking, as defined by Colorado law, involves three key elements:
Repeated conduct That involves a credible threat and/or Causes the victim severe emotional distress.
Specifically, Colorado Revised Statutes section 18-3- 602 (1), C.R.S. provides that a person commits stalking if directly, or indirectly through another person, the person knowingly:
Makes a credible threat to another person and, in connection with the threat, repeatedly follows, approaches, contacts, or places under surveillance that person, a member of that person’s immediate family, or someone with whom that person has or has had a continuing relationship; or
Makes a credible threat to another person and, in connection with the threat, repeatedly makes any form of communication with that person, a member of that person’s immediate family, or someone with whom that person has or has had a continuing relationship, regardless of whether a conversation ensues; or
Repeatedly follows, approaches, contacts, places under surveillance, or makes any form of communication with another person, a member of that person’s immediate family, or someone with whom that person has or has had a continuing relationship in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to suffer serious emotional distress and does cause that person, a member of that person’s immediate family, or someone with whom that person has or has had a continuing relationship to suffer serious emotional distress.
It is important to note that a single act – whether it be in the form of physical conduct or communication through email, the phone, or otherwise – cannot constitute stalking.
“Repeated” conduct is an essential element of the crime, and that requires more than one event.
Similarly, for a threat to form the basis of a stalking charge, it must be “credible,” which means that the threat, physical action, or repeated conduct “would cause a reasonable person to be in fear for the person’s safety or the safety of his or her immediate family or of someone with whom the person has or has had a continuing relationship.”
That sense of fear can also lead to a stalking conviction even without a credible threat. If the repeated conduct or communication “would cause a reasonable person to suffer serious emotional distress” and they do in fact suffer such distress, the conduct or communication alone can be the basis of a stalking charge.
Penalties for Felony Stalking in Colorado
If you are facing a Colorado stalking charge, you are also facing the possibility of a lengthy time behind bars. Stalking is both a felony as well as an “extraordinary risk” crime.
A first-time stalking offense is a class 5 felony which can result in a sentence of 1-5 years in Colorado state prison, a mandatory 2-year period of parole, and/or fines of up to $100,000.
A second or subsequent offense, if committed within seven years of a prior stalking conviction, will be prosecuted as a class 4 felony. It is also a class 4 felony if the stalking occurred while the accused was under an injunction, protective order, or other court order which prohibited communication or contact with the victim. Upon conviction for class 4 felony stalking, you could spend between 2-10 years in state prison with mandatory 3-year parole, and/or a fine of between $2,000 and $500,000.
In addition to “Vonnie’s Law,” Colorado also has a law specifically designed to address cyberstalking, online harassment, and cyberbullying. Known as “Kiana Arellano’s Law,” the law is named for a 14-year old Colorado high school sophomore and cheerleader who tried to kill herself in 2013 after being cyberbullied by classmates.
Online harassment, cyberstalking, and cyberbullying under “Kiana Arellano’s Law” is usually charged as a class 3 misdemeanor that can result in up to 6 months in jail, and/or a fine of $50-$750 upon conviction. However, online harassment can be charged as a class 1 misdemeanor if the harassment is committed with the intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, or national origin. In such a case, conviction can result in 6 – 18 months in jail and/or a fine of $500-$5,000.
Given the consequences of a Colorado stalking conviction, it is important to contact an experienced Colorado criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. There are numerous defenses that may be available to you, and your lawyer can help assert those defenses, protect your rights, and guide you through this difficult time.
Call for Free Consultation (719) 578-3322
Colorado Springs Criminal Defense Attorney