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What are the penalties for stalking?

According to Massachusetts law, stalking is classified as the act of unwanted physical or emotional distress perpetrated upon one individual by another. This can include anything from annoying contact that leaves the victim feeling fearful, to explicit contact where the assailant verbally, physically or digitally threatens or abuses the victim's life.

The first section of Massachusetts law covers those who subject a person to malicious acts intended to intimidate or abuse. The victim must prove emotional distress was caused during three separate and quantifiable occurrences before charges can be filed. These types of offenses are the initial grounds for a harassment prevention order and typically involve some sort of emotional abuse or distress. However, a person convicted for a stalking crime, whether they have been served a prevention order or not, is also subject to the same consequences as those jailed on related charges involving threats or domestic violence.

In the case of threats that cause the victim to fear for their life or when the accused ignores restrictions of a prevention order, the court can order a fine of up to a $1,000 and at least one year in prison. A threat is considered anything delivered verbally, by mail or over a communication device. This includes emails, text messages, social networking and phone calls. Subsequent offenses carry steeper consequences of up to ten years imprisonment.

An attorney handling a divorce where domestic abuse or stalking is involved will take every measure to ensure the safety of the client before anything else. This typically involves filing for a harassment prevention order intended to ensure that the accused is forced, under penalty of law, to refrain from abusive or threatening behavior or contact with the client.

Source: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, "Section 43Stalking; punishment", October 15, 2014

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