Supreme Court Raises the Bar for Stalking Convictions
After Billy Raymond Counterman sent myriad Facebook messages over the course of years to performer Coles Whalen, Whalen finally had enough and filed stalking charges. The hundreds of thousands of FB comments left Whalen feeling untethered enough that she ultimately felt she must leave her Colorado home for her own safety. Counterman was sent to prison for his part in the matter, something that a 7-2 majority of Supreme Court Justices found to be a miscarriage of justice.
What Kinds of Messages are We Talking About?
The messages involved here ranged from perfectly innocent to a bit creepy to downright scary. Friendly (but maybe a little unnerving) were promises from Counterman to bring Whalen tomatoes from his garden and comments about how stunning she looked during a performance. That grew to expletive-filled rants telling Whalen that she was no good for human relations, ending with, “Die, don’t need you.”
What Constitutes a Threat?
Whalen’s attorney had argued that when one considered the frequency, volume, and tone of the messages she received, it was clear that something bad was coming. Locking up the perpetrator was the best way to ensure Whalen’s safety. Even so, the impact on Whalen and her sense of peace was forever darkened, impacting family life, her ability to perform, and her overall happiness.
Counterman’s attorney, on the other hand, maintained that his client had no intention of harming Whalen, and certainly did not understand that his messages might be interpreted to be threatening. As Counterman suffered from mental illness, his interpretation of the messages was innocuous, and silencing him would be an attack on his freedom of speech. The law should not, reasoned the attorney, require one to anticipate the reaction of others when determining whether the speech was threatening.
One D.C. based attorney, John Elwood, summed it up by saying that if someone’s words are not intended as threats, there is no intent to harm, and therefore a conviction cannot be warranted.
Nevada’s Stalking Law
Here in Nevada, the law reads basically the same way: one must willfully engage in verbal attack with malice in such a way that any reasonable person would feel frightened. If there was no intent to actually cause harm, proving a stalking case could be pretty challenging.
An initial charge of stalking could lead to six months in jail and fines of $1,000. If aggravated stalking is charged based on a threat of significant harm or death, a defendant could face up to 15 years behind bars and $5,000 in fines.
The Defense You Deserve
If you’ve been charged with stalking, a conviction could mean permanent damage to your reputation, family, livelihood, and more. At Lobo Law, our experienced Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys will go to bat for you. To discuss, schedule a confidential consultation in our office today.