Stalking is a pervasive issue that affects the lives of many individuals. In Washington, D.C., the legal framework for addressing stalking is outlined in D.C. Code Section 22-3133. This Scrofano Law blog post will explore the specific elements that constitute stalking under this section and shed light on the process of obtaining Anti-Stalking Orders to protect individuals from this intrusive and harmful behavior.
What is stalking in Washington, D.C.
Stalking, as defined in D.C. Code Section 22-3133, involves “a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other behavior directed at a specific person.” To constitute stalking, certain key elements must be present. These elements include:
- Repetition and Pattern.
- Unwanted Attention or Harassment.
- Reasonable Fear.
- Intent: and
- Substantial Emotional Distress
Repetition and Pattern: Stalking is characterized by a repeated course of conduct. A one-time occurrence may not qualify as stalking under the law. It is the persistence and pattern of behavior that raise legal concerns.
Unwanted Attention or Harassment: The behavior in question must involve unwanted attention or harassment. This can manifest in various forms, such as unwanted communication, following the victim, or making unwarranted visits to their home or workplace.
Reasonable Fear: The victim must have a reasonable fear for their safety or the safety of others. This fear may be a result of the stalker’s actions and can include emotional distress and anxiety caused by the repeated unwanted behavior.
Intent: Intent is a crucial element in stalking cases. It is important to establish that the alleged stalker knowingly engaged in the behavior, recognizing the impact it would have on the victim.
D.C. Code Section 22-3133 specifically enumerates acts that may be considered stalking. These acts include but are not limited to following, monitoring, and communicating with the victim. Understanding the range of prohibited actions is essential for identifying potential instances of stalking.
How to Seek Protection through an Anti-Stalking Order in Washington, D.C.
Anti-Stalking Orders are civil legal tools designed to protect Petitioner’s (the Party who files) from the stalking behaviors of the Respondent (the Party filed against). However, not just any party can file a Petition for an Anti- Stalking Order. The Petitioner must have jurisdiction. Therefore, it is important to note the jurisdictional requirements when seeking an Anti-Stalking Order.
How does Jurisdiction Work?
Both the Petitioner and the Respondent must have a connection to the District of Columbia for the court to have jurisdiction over the case. Generally, this connection can be established through residency, employment, or other significant ties to the District. It is essential to meet these jurisdictional requirements to ensure that the court has the authority to adjudicate the case and issue the necessary orders. Jurisdiction can be tricky to determine and at many times may require a lawyer’s assistance. Filing a Petition without proper jurisdiction will lead to a party’s Petition being dismissed by the Court.
How does a Petitioner File for an Anti-Stalking Order?
10 steps for filing an Anti-Stalking Order.
- Prepare Documentation: The Petitioner should collect evidence of the stalking incidents, including any relevant communications, photographs, or witness statements. This documentation will be crucial in supporting your case. Collecting this evidence may require the use of FOIA (Freedom of Information ACT), subpoenas or Discovery Motions. Again, the assistance of a Washington, D.C. attorney is crucial to ensure that every essential document is collected, requested, and preserved.
- Filing Online or at the Courthouse: A Petitioner can go to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to initiate the process. Once there, head to the Clerk’s Office to request all necessary forms for filing an Anti-Stalking Order. These forms can also be found online through the Court’s website.
- Complete the Petition: The Petitioner is required to complete the Anti-Stalking Order petition form thoroughly and accurately. This includes providing details about the stalking incidents, the relationship between you and the alleged stalker, and any previous legal actions. However, this absolutely should not be done without the assistance of a lawyer. The information that is placed within the Petition will play a direct role in whether your Petition will be successful. There are many reasons why an attorney may or may not want to include certain information within your Petition. Absolutely, do not do this on your own. Seek legal advice from a Washington, D.C. lawyer who specializes in Anti-Stalking Orders.
- The Petitioner Must Swear to Tell the Truth: Once the Petition is complete, the Petitioner must sign the petition in front of a notary public, court personnel or online through the Court’s website. After signing the Petition, the Petitioner must swear or affirm that the information provided is true to the best of their knowledge.
- Submitting the Petition: The completed and signed petition must be returned to the Clerk’s Office either in-person, through the Court’s website or by emailing the Domestic Violence Clerk. After submission, the court will then review your petition to determine if there is sufficient evidence to issue a temporary anti-stalking order. This is also known as a TASO.
- Temporary Anti-Stalking Order “TASO” Hearing: After filing a Petition, the Petitioner will be granted a hearing with a Magistrate Judge. The purpose of this hearing is for the judge to decide whether immediate protection is necessary and if so, whether a TASO should be granted. The judge will also determine the terms of TASO. This could include Orders to stay away, not contact and not commit crimes against the Petitioner. This hearing is under Oath. A Petitioner should never attend this hearing without his or her attorney as their testimony will not only be critical to having a TASO granted but also to the ultimate success of their Petition.
- Service of Process: Once a temporary order is granted, a service packet must be served on the Respondent. This is typically done by law enforcement or a process server. This service packet contains a copy of the TASO, the Petition and a Notice of the Hearing date. Generally, if the Respondent is not properly served the Court cannot issue an anti-stalking order against the Respondent.
- Hearing for the Anti-Stalking Order: A full hearing will be scheduled to adjudicate whether a final Anti-Stalking Order should be issued. Both parties will have the opportunity to present evidence and arguments. This hearing is scheduled two weeks from the date of filing the petition. An attorney who specializes in Anti-Stalking Orders should be retained to represent the Petitioner at this hearing as the D.C. Rules of Evidence apply. Do not lose your chance to protect yourself and your loved ones because you acted without legal counsel.
- Knowing the Duration of the Anti-Stalking Order: Anti-Stalking Orders can vary in duration. TASO’s are typically granted for a period of two weeks unless a longer time is consented to by the Respondent. If the court determines that a final order is necessary, the protection order may be issued for up to two years. As the end of the two years approaches, the Petitioner may want to speak with an attorney about the possibility of filing for an extension.
- Know the terms of Anti-Stalking Order and the Consequences if the Respondent Violates: Violating an Anti-Stalking Order is a serious offense and can result in criminal charges for the Respondent. The individual who violates the order may be charged with criminal contempt. In addition to criminal consequences, having an Anti-Stalking Order may require the respondent to surrender any firearms in their possession. Make sure you have a copy of your TASO or Anti-Stalking Order on your person or saved to your phone. If the Respondent violates the Order, you will want it handy to show to the police.
In conclusion, D.C. Code Section 22-3133 serves as a vital tool in addressing and preventing stalking in Washington, D.C. By understanding the legal definition of stalking, the specific elements that constitute this behavior, and the procedural steps for obtaining Anti-Stalking Orders, individuals can take proactive steps to protect themselves from the harmful effects of stalking. If you or someone you know is a victim of stalking, seeking legal advice and using the resources available under D.C. law is essential for ensuring personal safety and well-being. At Scrofano Law, PC, we have attorneys who are experienced and highly qualified in litigating Anti- Stalking Orders. If you need protection or assistance of any kind, do not wait, contact us.