Stalking a current or former spouse or romantic partner, or a current or former (within the last six months) member of your household elevates stalking into the realm of domestic violence.
Stalking (California Penal Code section 646.9) has always been a problem for law enforcement and (legitimate) victims in California. However, it wasn’t until 1991 that stalking was actually criminalized by state law. Prior to that, police would simply tell victims that they were powerless to do anything until the stalker – which wasn’t even a word then – actually harmed the victim.
Even after the first anti-stalking law was passed in 1991, however, it was only codified as a misdemeanor in the Penal Code. In addition, the stalker wouldn’t be arrested, much less charged, unless he or she was about to inflict immediate harm on the victim. Indeed, many times police would not arrest the suspected perpetrator unless the victim had previously obtained a TRO or a more permanent protection order against the stalker.
In 1994 – realizing the then-current anti-stalking law’s shortcomings – the state legislature passed a stronger criminal statute, which now focused on the pattern of stalking activities for the purpose of terrorizing (or, alternatively, seriously harassing) the victim. Further, the victim no longer needed to be placed in immediate danger.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the new law allowed prosecutors the discretion of charging stalking as a felony with potential prison sentences of forty-eight months in the most extreme cases. As a result, California could now boast of having the most stringent anti-stalking law in the U.S.
Not surprisingly, the crime took on new significance with the widespread use of the internet in the late 1990s. (Which also coincided with Americans’ newfound obsession with celebrities – see below.) The internet allowed stalkers to easily locate the personal information of their victims, including residence and employment addresses, which, of course, facilitated stalking.
As a result, in July 1997, the LA County DA’s Office created the county’s first Stalking and Threat Assessment Team (commonly known as “STAT”). This is a special unit comprised of highly trained prosecutors and investigators whose duties range from enforcing restraining orders to trailing particularly dangerous stalkers once they leave jail or prison.
In 1998, California again led the nation by including cyberstalking as part of its anti-stalking law. Specifically, state Senate Bill number 1796 expanded the criminal code to encompass credible threats transmitted through any and all electronic means (e.g., landlines & cell phones, computers/the internet, Camcorders, facsimile machines, and beepers). And, thus, “cyberstalking” was officially identified as a subset of stalking. (Of course, today social media postings, message aps, text messages, and any other electronic communication fall under this crime.)
Indeed, only three weeks after the cyberstalking law was enacted on January 1, 1999, the first such crime was prosecuted in California – not surprisingly, by the LA County DA’s Office.