Last month in Fort Collins, Colorado State University police warned students and faculty about a man allegedly stalking people on campus. Tyreice M. “TJ” Lane was charged with trespass, harassment, and felony stalking, and was ordered to stay away from the CSU campus. Despite the charges and the restraining order, though, he was still supposedly seen in the area several times.
The details of Lane’s stalking charges are still being investigated, but they bring up a slew of questions about what constitutes stalking and harassment in Colorado. So let’s try to answer those questions now.
What Is Our State’s Legal Definition of Stalking?
- Makes a credible threat to a person and “repeatedly follows, approaches, contacts, or places under surveillance” that person, a family member, or someone they are in a relationship with; or
- Threatens a person and “repeatedly makes any form of communication with that person…regardless of whether a conversation ensues;” or
- “Repeatedly follows, approaches, contacts, places under surveillance, or makes any form of communication” that causes serious emotional distress.
This law is also known as Vonnie’s Law, named to honor Vonnie Flores, a stalking victim from Leadville who was murdered in 2010 by her neighbor – someone who had been previously arrested for stalking.
Stalking is seen as a serious crime in Colorado. A first-time stalking offender can be charged with a class 5 felony, which carries fines of up to $100,000 and 1-4 years in prison. A second or subsequent offense is a class 4 felony, which carries fines of up to $500,000 and 2-8 years in prison.
What Is Our State’s Legal Definition of Harassment?
While stalking is a felony, harassment – a similar crime – is a misdemeanor. The difference? Stalking establishes a repeated pattern of harassment, whereas harassment can be an isolated incident.
A person commits harassment in Colorado if he or she knowingly:
- Makes physical contact with a person; or
- Uses obscene language or makes an obscene gesture to a person in a public place; or
- Follows a person in public; or
- Communicates with someone with the intention to harass or threaten or in an obscene manner; or
- Calls someone or makes a phone ring repeatedly with no intention of having a conversation, or
- Repeatedly calls someone at inconvenient times; or
- Insults, taunts, challenges, or uses offensive language repeatedly to instigate a physical response.
Harassment is a class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $50 fine. If the victim is chosen based on race, religion, color, ancestry, or national origin, harassment becomes a class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by 6-18 months in jail and up to $5,000 in fines.
How Can You Defend Against Stalking Charges?
One of the most important aspects of the stalking statute is whether the defendant made a “credible threat.” A credible threat doesn’t have to be direct, but it does have to cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of their family.
So if the defendant had no intention of making the victim fearful because he or she was simply joking, stalking charges might not hold up in court. The same goes for a victim overreacting. If a reasonable person wouldn’t fear for their safety, stalking charges should be dropped.
If you have been accused of stalking in Colorado, you should avoid any contact with your accuser and then reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights.
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.