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Appeals court's ruling highlights expanding definitions of "stalking"

On Behalf of The Foley Law Firm | July 29, 2021

These days, almost every entertainer, author, politician, journalist and celebutante has a social media presence. Some use it largely for marketing purposes. Others enjoy connecting with fans. This can often lead people to feel like they have a relationship with these celebrities that doesn't exist.

When someone feels threatened by a fan’s attention, it can lead to criminal charges of harassment or stalking.

Man convicted after more than a million Facebook messages

The case of one man convicted of stalking in 2016 went before a Court of Appeals this month. The judges upheld his conviction, which he challenged on First Amendment grounds.

The man was sentenced to 54 months in prison for sending Denver musician Coles Whalen over a million Facebook messages over two years. Although she blocked the man multiple times, she says that she feared for her safety and even her life because of his “creepy” and “weird” messages. He mentioned a couple of “physical sightings” and asked, "Was that you in the white Jeep?” According to one of her bandmates, she was afraid to book any performances because it would necessitate publicizing her location at a specific time.

Colorado's stalking law was revised last year

The man’s defense attorney argued that her client “did not intend to make a threat or didn’t have knowledge that the communication would be perceived as a threat.” However, the Court of Appeals referred to the revision made to the state’s stalking law last year by the Colorado Supreme Court and what constitutes threatening speech.

The law now includes actions and communications that would cause a reasonable person to be emotionally distressed. The justice who wrote that opinion noted, “In determining whether a statement is a true threat, a reviewing court must examine the words used, but it must also consider the context in which the statement was made.”

This naturally opens the door to a broader definition of stalking than many people may have in their minds.

What to do if you're accused of stalking

Even if someone means no harm or threat by their words, stalking and harassment laws are increasingly changing to take into account how those words or actions make someone feel. If you’re facing stalking or harassment charges, it’s imperative that you take them seriously, as they can carry substantial penalties.

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