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The mission of the Stalking Resource Center is to enhance the ability of professionals, organizations, and systems to effectively respond to stalking.

Constitutional Issues



United States District Court (Northern District of California)

Muhammad v. Martel, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76445

Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging his conviction of four counts of stalking. Among his many allegations, the petitioner contended that his stalking conviction violated his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The petitioner had been writing numerous letters and making phone calls to the victim’s employer about the victim’s alleged use of marijuana. This conduct caused the victim to feel fear that she may lose her job. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law. . . abridging the freedom of speech.” Certain categories of speech may be regulated by the government, this includes a true threat. A true threat is a statement where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual. The speaker need not actually intend to carry out the threat. The prohibition on true threats protects individuals from the fear of violence. In this case, the petitioner’s correspondence with the victim’s employer was not protected by the First Amendment. The victim’s employer investigated the allegations made by petitioner and found them to be baseless. Despite this, the petitioner continued to contact the victim’s employer. This continued contact served no legitimate purpose and constituted stalking under the California Penal Code. Moreover, the petitioner had previously threatened to kill the victim and had disregarded a restraining order. The correspondence made to the employer caused the victim to fear for her safety. Given this context, the petitioner’s correspondence was not protected speech.


United States District Court (Maine)

U.S. v. Sayer, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 67684

The defendants were charged with interstate stalking under the federal stalking statute. Both defendants filed motions to dismiss arguing that their conduct was protected by the First Amendment, and that the federal stalking law was overbroad. The court denied both motions. Defendant Sayer was charged with stalking based on the allegations that he posted sexually explicit videos of the victim on the internet and provided the victim’s address on the posts. As a result, the victim had several men show up at her home asking for sex. This conduct caused her to fear being sexually assaulted. Defendant Thomas, on the other hand, sent letters through the mail to another state and these letters contained threats and harassing information. None of these activities are speech protected under the First Amendment. The court stated, “Yes, emails and websites involve communication and in that sense are speech.  But bribery, extortion, conspiracy, fraud, identity theft and threats also all involve communication, and speech in that sense, and yet they are crimes not protected by the First Amendment.  Instead, the Supreme Court has long recognized that ‘speech or writing used as an integral part of conduct in violation of a valid criminal statute’ is not protected.”


Washington

State v. Dobbs, 167 Wn. App. 905 (2012)

The defendant was convicted of various charges, including stalking and felony harassment. He appealed his convictions arguing that the trial court erred by applying the doctrine of forfeiture of confrontation rights by wrongdoing (6th Amendment). The defendant argued that the state failed to present direct evidence that the victim was unavailable due to the defendant’s behavior. Additionally, the defendant argued that the court should have only considered actions taken by the defendant after the state initiated criminal proceedings. The court stated that there was no rule that the trial court may only consider acts occurring after the defendant is charged in deciding whether the forfeiture doctrine applies. In particular, acts of domestic violence are often intended to dissuade the victim from getting help and include conduct designed to prevent testimony to the police or cooperation in criminal prosecutions. “Where such an abusive relationship culminates in murder, the evidence may support a finding that the crime expressed the intent to isolate the victim and to stop her from reporting abuse to the authorities or cooperating with a criminal prosecution—rendering her prior statements admissible under the forfeiture doctrine. Earlier abuse, or threats of abuse, intended to dissuade the victim from resorting to outside help would be highly relevant to this inquiry, as would evidence of ongoing criminal proceedings at which the victim would have been expected to testify.” Likewise, the court stated that the evidence clearly showed that the defendant engaged in repeated and persistent acts of violence against the victim and his violence escalated as time progressed. These actions included threatening the victim if she reported to or cooperated with the police. Thus, the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing was correctly applied to this case.


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