Violation of Federal Anti-Stalking Statutes

There are a number of federal statutes that prohibit stalking and other forms of threatening behavior. Almost all of these require that either the defendant or the victim cross state lines in connection with the offense, or that the offense take place within what is called the “special maritime and territorial jurisdiction” of the federal government before a federal court has the jurisdiction to hear the case.

While the “special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States” may sound rather vague, it actually covers a large number of locations, including any waters within the jurisdiction of the federal government that are not within the jurisdiction of any state; any ship in those waters or aircraft flying over them that belongs to the federal government, any US citizen, or any US corporation; any US fort, dockyard, or other “needful building”; any place outside the jurisdiction of the US or any other country where the crime is committed against a US citizen; and on foreign vessels during any voyage scheduled to stop in the US where the crime is committed against a US citizen.

Interstate Domestic Violence

The crime of Interstate Domestic Violence applies when a defendant crosses state lines or is within the special maritime jurisdiction of the US with the intent to “kill, injure, harass, or intimidate a spouse, intimate partner, or dating partner,” and when the defendant “commits or attempts to commit a crime of violence” against that victim. This crime also applies where the defendant forces the victim to cross state lines “by force, coercion, duress, or fraud,” and as part of the forced travel “commits or attempts to commit a crime of violence” against the victim.

Penalties for a conviction can be severe: up to life in prison if the victim dies as a result of the offense, up to 20 years if the victim is permanently disfigured or suffers a life-threatening bodily injury, up to 10 years if the victim suffers serious bodily injury or the defendant uses a dangerous weapon to commit the offense, and up to 5 years otherwise.

Stalking

The federal crime of stalking applies when a defendant crosses state lines or is within the special maritime jurisdiction of the US with the “intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate” the victim and as a result of these actions causes the victim to fear for their own death or serious injury, or the death or serious injury of an immediate family member, a spouse or “intimate partner,” or the victim's “pet, service animal, emotional support animal, or horse.”

Stalking also applies where the defendant – again after crossing state lines or while within the maritime jurisdiction of the US – causes or attempts to cause any of the people listed above “substantial emotional distress.”

A defendant can also be convicted of stalking even without physically crossing state lines. This can happen where the defendant uses the mail, Internet, or any other type of electronic communication service that is involved in interstate commerce with the intent to “kill, injure, harass, or intimidate” the victim and as a result causes the victim to reasonably fear for their own death or serious bodily injury, or the death or serious bodily injury of any of the other people or animals listed above.

Finally, a defendant who uses the mail or electronic communications described above can be liable for stalking if the defendant causes or attempts to cause substantial emotional distress to the victim, the victim's immediate family member, or the victim's spouse or intimate partner.

Penalties for a conviction of stalking are the same as for Interstate Domestic Violence. In addition, if the crime is committed in violation of a restraining order, the punishment is a prison term of at least one year.

If the stalking victim is under the age of 18, the sentence is increased by an additional five years, except where the defendant is under 18 or the victim is between 15 and 17 and the defendant is up to three years older than the victim.

Interstate Violation of Protection Order

A defendant who crosses state lines or is within the special maritime jurisdiction of the US and has the intent to violate the terms of a protective order, issued by any court, that prohibits “violence, threats, or harassment against, contact or communication with, or physical proximity to, another person or the pet, service animal, emotional support animal, or horse of that person,” is guilty of the crime of Interstate Violation of a Protection Order. As with the crime of Interstate Domestic Violence, a defendant can also be convicted of Interstate Violation of Protection Order where the defendant forces the victim to cross state lines “by force, coercion, duress, or fraud,” and as a result violates the terms of the protective order.

And because federal courts give “full faith and credit” to protection orders issued by the states, a defendant who violates a Pennsylvania protection from abuse (PFA) order while in another state, or who violates another state's protective order while in Pennsylvania, risks violating this serious federal statute.

Penalties are severe, essentially the same as for the crime of Interstate Domestic Violence: up to life in prison if the victim dies as a result of the offense, up to 20 years if the victim is permanently disfigured or suffers a life-threatening bodily injury, up to 10 years if the victim suffers serious bodily injury or the defendant uses a dangerous weapon to commit the offense, and up to 5 years otherwise.

You Should Not Face These Charges Alone

If charged with violating any of these federal anti-stalking or domestic violence statutes, you need the help of an experienced and dedicated attorney to prepare your defense. All of these crimes are felonies, the penalties for violating any of them are severe, and a conviction could land you in federal prison for decades.

The Criminal Law Team at the LLF Law Firm have the experience and fortitude necessary to represent you in serious federal criminal matters such as federal anti-stalking or domestic violence charges. Call the LLF Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to learn more about how they can help you defend your case.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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