The way that Colorado handles stalking and harassment is a little bit strange.
On the one hand, if you are charged with stalking, it technically falls under the umbrella of harassment according to the law. In other words, stalking is a way of harassing someone.
That makes sense, right?
Unfortunately, that little legal oddity makes many people believe that these two crimes come with the same charge, as in some other states – but that is decidedly not the case, and one is treated far more seriously than the other.
In fact, it’s possible to be charged with both stalking and harassment if you make repeated and unwanted texts and calls, or if you make threats through electronic means, including social media.
ln this post, we’ll break down the laws for you and tell you how a knowledgeable Denver criminal lawyer can help you fight back.
Stalking in Colorado
If a person is being pursued by an individual whom they do not wish to pursue them, they can file a stalking charge – provided the “pursuing actions” meet the criteria laid out in the law.
Stalking involves a course of conduct that includes more than one activity in the following categories against an individual and/or an individual’s family members:
Communicating to or about an individual
It is unlawful to repeatedly communicate with or about an individual against his or her will.
Following a person without his or her consent is prohibited.
Interfering with property
You cannot lawfully enter or use another person’s property without his or her express permission.
It is unlawful to track or monitor another person’s behavior when he or she does not consent to the monitoring.
Watching a person in a harassing or menacing way is not permitted by law.
It is also unlawful to conduct surveillance on another person’s whereabouts.
If a threat is made in connection to following or communicating with an alleged victim, and it causes emotional distress to the victim, stalking charges may apply.
Cyberstalking is the use of electronic communication forms to make threats and engage in malicious or harmful behavior against an individual while online.
Examples of stalking include the following:
- Leaving unwanted gifts or written messages
- Showing up at a person’s home or workplace
- Making unwanted phone calls
- Posting harassing messages on another person’s social media account
- Vandalizing a person’s physical property
A first-time stalking charge is a Class 5 felony. If a restraining order or any other court order is attached to the case, a Class 4 felony charge will apply. For a repeat conviction within seven years of the first offense, a Class 4 felony charge will apply.
Harassment in Colorado
Harassment is classified by many different behaviors, but all involve an intent to alarm, annoy, or harass another person. Here are the various behaviors that count as harassment under Colorado law.
- Unlawful physical contact, such as kicking, shoving, or striking
- Obscene language or gestures made in a public place
- Following a person in a public place
- Initiating communication via telephone or electronic means
- Making repeated telephone calls with no legitimate purpose
- Making repeated communications at inconvenient hours that invade a person’s right to privacy
- Making repeated communications in a manner likely to provoke violence or disorder
A charge of harassment must be reasonable, based on the prudent opinions of the general population. It may also cause emotional stress for the alleged victim, which may create the need for psychological counseling.
Harassment is normally a class 3 misdemeanor charge. However, it can be elevated to a class 1 misdemeanor if it is directed at someone due to their actual or perceived mental or physical disability, national origin, ancestry, religion, race, color, or sexual orientation.
Understanding the Difference between Harassment and Stalking Charges
Just glancing at these two crimes, it’s easy to see why they both fall under the same umbrella. In fact, it can be difficult to actually discern – legally speaking – the difference between the two types of behaviors.
Why, when both involve most of the same actions, is one defined as harassment, while the other is stalking?
The answer comes from a specific part of the stalking law. While you can be charged with harassment for engaging in any single one of the activities mentioned against another person, stalking requires you to be involved in more than one.
It’s a fairly subtle difference, but it’s a big deal – after all, it can be the difference between getting charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
It’s important to fight back against your charges with the help of a qualified Colorado criminal defense attorney. We will look closely at your case and determine which of the following common defenses may work to get your charges reduced or even dismissed:
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.