Stalking Charge Lawyer

Federal Stalking Lawyer – 18 U.S. Code § 2261A

Facing federal stalking charges can be a daunting and serious matter. Notably, federal law outlines specific circumstances under which an individual can be charged with the federal offense of stalking, and the severity of this offense is reflected in its stringent criteria and potential consequences. In the following piece, we will explain the intricacies of 18 U.S. Code § 2261A, emphasizing the gravity of such charges and how a skilled federal criminal defense attorney can assist those accused.


Interstate Or Foreign Travel With Intent To Harm

18 U.S. Code § 2261A addresses the crime of stalking at the federal level. The statute specifies two primary conditions under which a person can be charged. The first part of the statute focuses on individuals who travel in interstate or foreign commerce, or are present in U.S. jurisdictions, including maritime and territorial areas or Indian country, with the intent to harm, harass, intimidate, or surveil another person. If, in the course of such travel or presence, the person engages in conduct that either:

  • Places someone in fear of death or serious bodily injury, affecting the targeted person, their immediate family, spouse, intimate partner, or their pet or service animal.
  • Causes or is likely to cause significant emotional distress to the targeted individual or their close relationships.

Use Of Mail Or Electronic Communications In Stalking

The second part expands the scope to include the use of mail, any interactive computer service, electronic communication service or system, or any other facility of interstate or foreign commerce for stalking. This covers behaviors that:

  • Instill a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm.
  • Are likely to cause significant emotional distress.

The law encompasses a wide range of behaviors and mediums, acknowledging the modern avenues through which stalking can occur, including digital platforms.


Specific Penalties For Stalking Under 18 U.S. Code § 2261A

The penalties for stalking under 18 U.S. Code § 2261A are dependent on the severity of the offense and the harm caused to the alleged victim. The statute outlines several levels of punishment:

  1. If Death of the alleged Victim Results: For the most serious offenses where the stalking results in the death of the alleged victim, the penalty can be as severe as life imprisonment or any amount of years.
  2. If Permanent Disfigurement or Life-Threatening Bodily Injury Results: If the alleged victim suffers permanent disfigurement or life-threatening bodily injury, the offender can face imprisonment of 20 years or less.
  3. If Serious Bodily Injury Results or Use of a Dangerous Weapon: In cases where serious or significant bodily injury to the alleged victim occurs, or if the offender uses a dangerous weapon during the offense, the imprisonment term can be up to 10 years.
  4. Other Cases: For other cases that do not result in such severe harm, the statute stipulates imprisonment for not more than 5 years.
  5. Stalking in Violation of a Court Order: Additionally, if the stalking violates a permanent or temporary criminal or civil injunction, no-contact order, restraining order, or other similar order, the punishment is imprisonment for not less than 1 year.
  6. Enhanced Penalties for Stalking Minors: Under 18 U.S. Code § 2261B, if the alleged victim of the stalking offense is under the age of 18, the maximum imprisonment term can be increased by five years more than the maximum term otherwise provided for that offense. However, there are limitations to this enhancement, particularly concerning the age of the offender and the age difference between the offender and the alleged victim.

Interstate Domestic Violence Context

Additionally, 18 U.S. Code § 2261, while focusing on interstate domestic violence, shares similarities with § 2261A, as it also deals with crimes of violence committed against intimate partners and family members under interstate circumstances. The penalties outlined here are severe and can include imprisonment for life or a term of years, depending on the severity of the harm caused.


Defenses To Federal Stalking Charges

Lack Of Intent To Harm, Intimidate, Or Harass

One of the key elements of 18 U.S. Code § 2261A is the requirement of intent. The accused must have had the intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or surveil the alleged victim. A defense may argue that the defendant’s actions, while perhaps misjudged or inappropriate, lacked this specific intent. Proving the absence of intent can significantly undermine the prosecution’s case, as intent is a crucial component of the stalking charge.

Absence Of Reasonable Fear Or Emotional Distress

The statute also requires that the defendant’s actions must place the alleged victim in reasonable fear of death, serious bodily injury, or cause substantial emotional distress. A defense strategy might involve demonstrating that the alleged victim did not experience a reasonable level of fear or emotional distress. This could involve examining the context of the interactions, the history between the parties, or the nature of the alleged conduct.

First Amendment Defense

In some instances, actions perceived as stalking might be argued as protected under the First Amendment, particularly if they involve speech or expressive conduct. This defense would necessitate a careful balance, as the right to free speech does not extend to threats, harassment, or conduct that incites immediate violence. A defense attorney could argue that the defendant’s actions were within the realm of constitutionally protected behavior.

Misidentification Or Lack Of Evidence

Another possible defense is misidentification or lack of sufficient evidence. Given that stalking can involve indirect contact or digital communication, there could be instances where the true identity of the perpetrator is uncertain. The defense might challenge the prosecution’s evidence, arguing that it does not conclusively prove the defendant was the individual who engaged in the alleged stalking behavior.

Mistake Of Fact

A defendant might claim a mistake of fact, arguing that they genuinely believed their actions were not causing fear or distress, or that they were directed towards someone else. This defense would be more applicable in scenarios where the stalking behavior involved misunderstandings or mistaken identities.

Frequently Asked Questions About Federal Stalking

What Constitutes Stalking Under 18 U.S. Code § 2261A?

Under 18 U.S. Code § 2261A, stalking involves traveling in interstate or foreign commerce, or being present within U.S. jurisdictions, with the intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or surveil another person. This also includes using mail, any interactive computer service, or electronic communication in a way that places a person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury, or causes substantial emotional distress.

Are There Different Levels Of Punishment Under This Statute?

Yes, the statute stipulates varying levels of punishment based on the severity of the offense. Penalties can range from fines to imprisonment, with the most severe cases involving life imprisonment or a term of years if the alleged victim suffers death or serious bodily harm.

Can Stalking Charges Be Filed For Something I Did Online?

Yes, 18 U.S. Code § 2261A covers the use of electronic communication systems, interactive computer services, or any other facility of interstate or foreign commerce for stalking purposes. This means that online behaviors such as cyberstalking can fall under this statute.

Cofer Luster Criminal Defense Lawyers Stalking Lawyers

Understanding 18 U.S. Code § 2261A is vital for anyone facing stalking charges at the federal level. This law is all encompassing, covering various forms and mediums of stalking, and imposes significant penalties, especially in cases involving minors. Having a competent federal criminal defense attorney is essential in navigating the complexities of such charges and ensuring a fair and just legal process.

The federal criminal defense lawyers at Cofer Luster Criminal Defense Lawyers focus in such cases and are ready to provide the guidance and defense you need. Contact Cofer Luster Criminal Defense Lawyers at (682) 777-3336 or reach out online for a consultation today.

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