Stalking | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

Stalking is a crime that involves unwanted and repeated harassing or threatening behavior towards another person, causing them to fear for their safety or well-being.

Stalking is a serious crime that can have a profound impact on the victim’s mental and emotional well-being. It is often characterized by repeated unwanted contact, such as phone calls, emails, or text messages, as well as physical contact such as following the victim or showing up at their workplace or home. The behavior may escalate over time, with the stalker becoming increasingly aggressive or violent towards the victim.

In many cases, stalking is motivated by a desire for power and control over the victim. Stalkers may be former romantic partners, acquaintances, or strangers who become fixated on the victim. They may engage in a variety of tactics to intimidate or harass the victim, including surveillance, threats, and physical violence.

Stalking is a crime that is recognized by law in many jurisdictions around the world. In the United States, for example, stalking is a criminal offense in all 50 states, and it is often classified as a felony. Depending on the severity of the offense, penalties for stalking can include fines, imprisonment, and other legal consequences.

One of the challenges in prosecuting stalking cases is that the behavior can be difficult to prove. Stalkers may use various tactics to avoid detection, such as using different phone numbers or email addresses to contact the victim, or disguising themselves in public. They may also try to deny or minimize their behavior when confronted by law enforcement.

To address these challenges, many jurisdictions have developed specialized units to investigate and prosecute stalking cases. These units may include law enforcement officials, victim advocates, and mental health professionals who work together to support victims and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.

The Model Penal Code, which is a set of guidelines used to develop criminal codes in many jurisdictions in the United States, defines stalking as a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of others.

Under the Model Penal Code, the elements of stalking include:

      1. Willful and repeated conduct: The stalker engages in a pattern of behavior that is willful and repeated, meaning it is done intentionally and happens more than once.
      2. Directed at a specific person: The stalker’s conduct is directed at a specific individual.
      3. Causes fear: The stalker’s conduct causes the victim to fear for their safety or the safety of others.
      4. Harassment or intimidation: The stalker’s conduct involves harassment or intimidation, such as following the victim, making repeated unwanted contact, or engaging in other intrusive behaviors.
      5. No legitimate purpose: The stalker’s conduct serves no legitimate purpose, such as gathering information for a lawful investigation.

In order to be convicted of stalking under the Model Penal Code, all of these elements must be present. The severity of the offense and the potential penalties for stalking can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case, including the nature of the stalker’s behavior, the victim’s level of fear, and the stalker’s criminal history.

Reference: The Model Penal Code’s provisions on stalking can be found in Section 250.4, titled “Stalking and Aggravated Stalking,” which is part of Article 250 on Offenses Against the Person.

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Last Modified: 03/14/2023


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