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Navigating Arkansas’ Sentencing Guidelines for Stalking Offenses

Navigating Arkansas’ Sentencing Guidelines for Stalking Offenses

So, you or someone you know has been charged with stalking in Arkansas. First off, take a deep breath. While stalking is a serious offense, understanding the law and potential sentences can help you figure out your next steps. In this guide, we’ll break down Arkansas‘ stalking laws and sentencing guidelines in plain English. No confusing legal jargon, we promise!

What Exactly is Stalking in Arkansas?

According to Arkansas Code § 5-71-229, stalking is defined as purposely engaging in a course of conduct that would place a reasonable person in the victim‘s position under emotional distress and in fear for their safety or the safety of their family. This conduct must be done knowingly and include actions like:

  • Following the victim
  • Showing up at their home, work, school, or other places they frequent
  • Vandalizing their property
  • Sending harassing messages or unwanted gifts
  • Threatening the victim or their loved ones

Basically, if you repeatedly do things to freak someone out and make them fear for their safety, even after they‘ve told you to stop, you could be looking at stalking charges.

Stalking Classifications & Penalties

In Arkansas, stalking offenses are divided into three categories, each with their own potential sentences:

1. Stalking in the Third Degree

This is the least severe stalking charge and is considered a Class A misdemeanor (§ 5-71-229(b)(1)). If convicted, you could face:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • A fine of up to $2,500
  • Or both jail time and a fine

2. Stalking in the Second Degree

Stalking bumps up to a Class D felony if (§ 5-71-229(b)(2)):

  • You’ve been convicted of stalking before
  • You violated a no contact order or restraining order
  • You were armed with a deadly weapon during the stalking
  • The victim was under 16 years old and you’re over 20

If convicted of stalking in the 2nd degree, you’re looking at:

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  • Up to 6 years in prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Or both imprisonment and a fine

3. Stalking in the First Degree

This is the most serious stalking charge and is a Class C felony (§ 5-71-229(b)(3)). You could face 1st degree stalking charges if, while stalking:

  • You caused physical injury to the victim
  • You made a terroristic threat against the victim or their family
  • You were armed with a deadly weapon and threatened to use it

A conviction for stalking in the 1st degree carries:

  • 3 to 10 years in prison
  • A fine up to $10,000
  • Or both prison and a fine

Aggravating Factors & Enhanced Sentences

Certain circumstances can lead to harsher sentences for stalking convictions in Arkansas. The judge may give an enhanced sentence if (§ 5-4-702):

  • You have prior felony convictions
  • The victim was particularly vulnerable (elderly, disabled, pregnant, etc.)
  • You used a firearm during the stalking
  • The stalking was committed in furtherance of a hate crime
  • You have a history of violence against the victim

If aggravating factors are present, the judge could tack on an additional term of imprisonment up to 15 years for a felony stalking conviction. So if you’re convicted of 2nd degree stalking with aggravating circumstances, your 6 year sentence could turn into 21 years behind bars. Yikes!

Defenses Against Stalking Charges

“But wait,” you might be thinking, “what if I’m wrongfully accused of stalking?” Don‘t worry, there are defenses available if the stalking allegations are baseless. Some common defenses include:

  • Lack of evidence: If the prosecutor can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you engaged in stalking behaviors, you should be acquitted. An experienced criminal defense attorney can poke holes in the state’s case.
  • No malicious intent: Stalking requires purposeful actions meant to cause fear. If your conduct was unintentional or not aimed at intimidating the alleged victim, that can form the basis of your defense.
  • False allegations: Unfortunately, people sometimes falsely accuse others of stalking out of revenge, jealousy, or mental instability. If you have evidence the accuser is lying, that can get the charges dropped.
  • Constitutional challenges: You have a 1st Amendment right to free speech and movement. If the stalking charge is based on protected activities like protesting or journalistic pursuits, you may have grounds to fight it.

The key is to consult with a skilled criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to start building your case. Check out sites like Avvo or FindLaw to find experienced attorneys in your area.

Protective Orders & No Contact Orders

If you‘ve been accused of stalking, the alleged victim may seek a protective order or no contact order against you. These court orders prohibit you from contacting or going near the person who filed it. Violating a protective order, even if the stalking allegation is false, can lead to contempt of court charges and additional criminal penalties (§ 9-15-207).While it may be frustrating to be hit with a no contact order, it’s critical that you abide by its terms. Don‘t try to reach out to the accuser to clear things up or convince them to drop it. That will only make matters worse! Let your attorney deal with the protective order through the proper legal channels.

Collateral Consequences of a Stalking Conviction

Aside from jail time and fines, a stalking conviction can impact your life in other major ways. Some potential collateral consequences include:

  • Employment difficulties: Many employers run background checks and may be hesitant to hire someone with a stalking conviction. You could also face professional licensing issues.
  • Housing issues: Landlords often conduct criminal history screenings of potential tenants. A stalking offense could make it harder to rent an apartment or home.
  • Firearm restrictions: Under federal law (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8)), if you’re subject to a protective order related to stalking, you can’t possess firearms or ammunition. Some stalking convictions may also strip your gun rights.
  • Social stigma: There’s a significant stigma attached to stalking and harassment crimes. A conviction could strain your personal relationships and reputation in the community.
  • Immigration consequences: For non-citizens, a stalking conviction can jeopardize your immigration status and even lead to deportation in some cases.

Before accepting any plea deal, make sure to discuss all the potential ripple effects with your attorney. They can advise you on how to mitigate the collateral damage and move forward with your life.

Stalking Sentencing Calculators & Tools

Figuring out your possible sentence for a stalking charge can seem overwhelming. Luckily, there are some handy tools available to help estimate your exposure:

  • Arkansas Sentencing Standards Grid: This chart shows the presumptive sentence ranges for each felony class based on your criminal history score.
  • Arkansas Sentencing Commission Offense Seriousness Rankings: This document lists where different stalking offenses fall on the seriousness scale, which affects the sentencing range.
  • Felony Sentencing Calculator: While not Arkansas-specific, this interactive tool from The Marshall Project lets you input different variables to estimate sentencing ranges for felonies. It’s a good starting point to understand how enhancements and mitigating factors work.

Just remember, these are only general guidelines. Your actual sentence will depend on the specific facts of your case and the judge‘s discretion. Use these tools to get a ballpark idea, but always defer to your attorney‘s analysis.

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