This is the next post in my series discussing harassment or stalking charges in Peoria, Illinois. My last article provided an overview of the topics to be discussed throughout this series. It also stressed the importance of contacting a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible if you have been charged with harassment or stalking. Although these terms are used casually in conversation, many residents are not aware of what actually constitutes criminal harassment or stalking. Such charges are serious and convictions can carry significant criminal penalties. In this post, I will discuss the legal definitions of stalking and harassment and the penalties for each under Illinois law. If you need assistance, contact my office today to speak with a lawyer.
Harassment and stalking are serious Illinois criminal offenses with significant potential penalties
Illinois law defines harassment as knowingly engaging in conduct that would cause a reasonable person emotional distress and actually does cause such emotional distress in the victim. Harassment may occur when a person contacts a victim, either in person, over the telephone, or through other electronic means, such as emails, texts, or social media, in such a way that would cause them embarrassment, fear, anxiety, etc. It is important to understand that whether conduct constitutes harassment will depend on the facts of the situation. For instance, the contents of a single message may only seem mildly annoying. If such messages are sent repeatedly to the victim, the pattern of conduct may constitute harassment. Conversely, if the message or contact is threatening, then the one message alone may be enough to bring criminal charges. A first-time harassment conviction is a Class B misdemeanor. Second or subsequent convictions are considered Class A misdemeanors, that may result in incarceration or community service. In certain circumstances, such as when a victim is a minor and accused is over 18, or the defendant has previous convictions for other specific violent offenses, among other things, harassment may be punished as a Class 4 felony, punishable by between one and three years in jail and up to a $25,000 fine.
Stalking is a more serious offense than harassment. Illinois law defines stalking as knowingly surveilling someone without their consent more than once or engaging in other behavior that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of others. If the victim was confined or restrained without their consent, suffered bodily harm as part of the stalking behavior, or the accused was subject to a protective order, this is considered aggravated stalking. Stalking may include following someone, tracking their movements electronically without their permission, or waiting outside of their office or home to observe their activities. It may also include cyberstalking or engaging in the behaviors referenced above via social media. Cyberstalking may take the form of repeated contact through direct messages, replies, comments that create fear or anxiety for the victim. First-time stalking offenders will be charged with a Class 4 felony, punishable by between one and three years in jail and a fine of up to $25,000. A subsequent conviction of stalking or first conviction for aggravated stalking will be considered a Class 3 felony, punishable by between two and five years behind bars and up to a $25,000 fine. The penalties for subsequent aggravated stalking convictions are even more severe as they are Class 2 felonies.
Peoria defendants should immediately contact a lawyer if they have been charged with stalking or harassment
It is not uncommon for harassment and stalking accusations to be made against a partner or spouse in the context of a break-up or divorce. In some cases, the accused makes the mistake of taking the accusation lightly, believing that their ex will drop the charges. It is important to remember that stalking and harassment are criminal matters, not civil charges that can be resolved between the individuals involved. Once such behavior has been reported to the police, the state will decide whether to press criminal charges. It is, therefore, important to immediately contact an attorney to assist you.
As a Peoria criminal defense lawyer, I am experienced in handling stalking and harassment charges. Contact my office today. We also serve clients in Bloomington, Decatur, Eureka, Galesburg, Morton, Normal, Pekin, Springfield, and Washington and the counties of Fulton, Knox, LaSalle, Marshall, Mason, McLean, Putnam, Rock Island, Schuyler, Stark, Tazewell, and Woodford. Additional areas where we handle federal cases include Benton, Chicago, East St. Louis, Springfield, and Urbana.