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What you say to another person or how you act toward them matters. Not only can your words and actions offend or emotionally hurt someone, but there are also instances when what you say or do is a crime. If you threaten an individual or their family members or friends, and you make that person reasonably fear for their health and safety, then you can be charged with a crime. The state of Washington takes threats and harassment allegations seriously, particularly if they are related to a person’s race, color, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Depending on the extent of the threats or the motive behind them, you could be charged with a felony, requiring immediate intervention from a skilled Tacoma harassment attorney.
When allegations of harassment are made against you, protect yourself by speaking with a Tacoma domestic violence attorney from The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC. You can contact us online or call (253) 518-3643 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.
Harassment (RCW 9A.46.020(1))
You may face harassment charges in Washington if you knowingly threaten to:
- Cause bodily injury immediately or in the future to the person threatened or someone else;
- Cause damage to another person’s property;
- Physically confine or restrain the person threatened or another individual; or
- Maliciously perform any other act that is intended to cause substantial physical or mental harm.
However, prosecutors must prove more than mere threats. In addition to at least one element listed above, prosecutors also must establish that your words or actions reasonably caused another person to fear you would carry out your threats. Your threats toward another person must have been perceived as real by the individual threatened. Threats that were said out of anger or resentment, or threats that you could reasonably not carry out, may not amount to harassment.
Harassment, without any other aggravating factors present in your case, is typically charged as a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and fines reaching $5,000.
Felony Harassment (RCW 9A.46.020(2)(b))
You may be charged with a class C felony for harassment if:
- You were previously convicted of harassing the same victim, a member of the victim’s family or household, or anyone specifically listed in a no-contact order.
- You threatened to kill the individual threatened or another person.
- You threatened a criminal justice participant (law enforcement officers, prosecution attorneys, correctional, probation, or parole officers, the staff of a juvenile correctional facility, defense attorney, etc.) who were performing their duties at the time.
If you are charged with felony harassment, immediately contact a Tacoma harassment lawyer. You should take all accusations of harassment seriously, yet with a felony offense, it is even more important that you have a knowledgeable attorney fighting for your rights and freedom.
As a class C felony, you may be punished with a maximum of five years in prison and $5,000 in fines.
Malicious Harassment (RCW 9A.36.080)
The intent behind your alleged harassment may impact the charges prosecutors bring against you. You may be charged with malicious harassment under Washington law if you maliciously and intentionally commit certain acts of harassment based on a person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory handicap.
Malicious harassment, a class C felony, entails:
- Causing physical injury to the victim or another person;
- Causing physical damage or the destruction of property owned by the victim or someone else; or
- Threaten a specific individual, group, or members of a group and put the victims in reasonable fear of harm.
To be clear, words alone are not enough. The context or circumstances surrounding the oral or written words must indicate that they are a threat. You also must have the apparent ability to carry out the threat. Additionally, certain acts may automatically be considered malicious harassment unless there is evidence to prove otherwise, including burning a cross on the property of someone you perceived as of African American heritage or defacing the property of a person whom you thought was of Jewish heritage with a swastika.
Defending Yourself Against Harassment Charges
When facing allegations of harassing a person or group, you may not be sure of how to respond. our instinct is to deny the claims vigorously, but you need to do more than that in court. You need to present a strong and thorough defense. To do this, you should work with a criminal defense attorney who has handled harassment cases before.
To defend against allegations of harassment, you may claim that you are the victim of false allegations. In this situation, your Tacoma harassment lawyer may seek to prove that the alleged victim has false motives, such as revenge. You may claim the prosecutors have the wrong person and this is a case of mistaken identity. To support this defense, your lawyer may present the court with your alibi for the time of the alleged harassment.
Another potential defense is that the alleged harassment was merely words. You may have said something out of anger or in the heat of the moment, with no real intent behind the words. Or, your lawyer may seek to prove to the court that no reasonable person would believe you were capable of carrying out the threats.
Contact a Tacoma Harassment Attorney at The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC
Being accused of harassment, stalking, or a hate crime is serious. You need an attorney to fiercely defend you in court. Whether a misdemeanor or felony charge, you do not want a harassment conviction on your record. It can ruin your reputation and make it difficult to continue your education, find a job, and advance in your career. It also can create issues regarding rental housing, personal loans, child custody and visitation, and immigration status.
To protect your rights during an investigation and to defend yourself in court, contact an attorney from The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC. Attorney Benfield has a proven track record of achieving favorable outcomes in various harassment cases and clear passion for advocating on every client’s behalf. He will explain your situation and rights, guide you through the criminal court process, and work hard to obtain the best possible result in your case.
Call (253) 518-3643 today or submit the details of your situation online to schedule a free and confidential consultation with harassment attorney Benfield.