I have been a criminal defense attorney for over 10 years and often read interesting criminal case fact patterns, but I recently read a story that surprised even me. I have represented many clients in Centre County over the years that have been charged with harassment and stalking, but the charges generally involve former lovers or romantic flings that went south. One party, or sometime both parties, to the relationship simply cannot get over the break up and leave the other person alone. The common factor is hurt feelings. A California woman recently pleaded guilty to stalking for engaging in harassing behavior toward the people that had outbid the woman for a home.
According to the article, the home was purchased by a husband and wife with a young child and a second child on the way. Shortly after moving into the residence, the family received over $1,000.00 worth of adult diapers and magazines. Pretty big prank, but I suspect that everything could be returned. The problem was that the pranks continued and increased in severity. Unbeknownst to the homeowners, someone had re-listed the house for sale online and would-be homebuyers stopped at the house for viewings. An advertisement for a New Year's party at the home was posted online. Then, on Valentine's Day, cards were falsely signed by the husband and sent to the neighbors' wives, which I am sure did not go over well with the husbands in the community. There were also online advertisements that offered sex with the female homeowner. The family called the police, but it took over a year for the police to link the crimes to the perpetrator, and that's when it was discovered that the woman was simply angry at the couple because they had won the bidding war for the home.
Pennsylvania Stalking Charge
In Pennsylvania, a person can be charged with stalking under 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2709.1 if the person engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts toward another person . . . under circumstances which demonstrate either an intent to place such other person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress to such other person. The charge is a spinoff of Harassment, but a much more severe level of harassing behavior. The offense is normally graded as a misdemeanor of the first degree. A first-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania has a maximum sentence of five years in jail and a $10,000.00 fine. Because of the severity of the charge, a person convicted of the offense would also be prohibited under Federal law from possessing a firearm.
The woman in the story pleaded guilty to stalking and was sentenced to a year of home electronic surveillance, meaning in-home detention, followed by five years of probation, and ordered to stay away from the couple for ten years. To an extent, the sentence sounds extremely severe for a Stalking offense, but then again, the level of harassment in this case was also outside of the norm. When a judge is determining the appropriate sentence to impose in a case, the judge often consider mitigating and aggravating factors to either increase or reduce the level of the punishment. This woman went above and beyond in harassing a young couple in that it occurred over a relatively prolonged period of time and involved numerous, separate incidents. Her only reasoning was that she was unsuccessful in trying to buy a house, which seems like a ridiculous reason. Given the duration and volume of incidents in this case, the punishment probably did fit the crime here.