Stalking Protection Order
What is stalking and what is a Stalking Protection Order (SPO)?
Stalking is a pattern of behavior in which an individual either harasses, follows, or threatens another person and causes that person to reasonably feel frightened. Stalking becomes a “pattern” once the alleged incident occurs repeatedly – two or more occasions. It is repetition, not duration, that is the essential condition for stalking. “Harassment” is conduct which serves no purpose that seriously alarms or annoys a specific person. “Follows” means to deliberately maintain physical distance to a specific person over a period of time. A “threat” is an intent to cause harm onto someone with respect to their health or safety. “Reasonably frightened” means that the fear was one that a reasonable person in the same situation would also experience.
For a Stalking Protection Order (SPO), it does not matter if the stalker intended to frighten you. What does matter is whether you were reasonably frightened. If you let the person who is harassing, following, or threatening you know that you do not wish to be contacted nor followed, and the stalker still attempts to contact or follow you, then there is enough evidence for a SPO. Stalking can also involve cyberstalking. With cyberstalking, the individual uses an electronic device, like a phone, or social media, like Facebook or Instagram, to harass or threaten a victim.
If you are a victim of stalking, one option to attempt to get the stalker to stop is to get a SPO. It is designed to stop the stalker, as long as the stalker is someone from outside your family or household, from having any contact with you, either directly, indirectly, or through third parties (i.e., stalker’s friends stalk you instead of the original stalker). The SPO can order the stalker to stay away from your residence, workplace, or school. The SPO can also order the stalker from knowingly coming within a specific distance from a specific location (i.e., the daycare or school of your children).
In order to file for a SPO, you must be at least 16 years old. You can file in either the county in which you live or have fled to. You may file on behalf of a minor child if you are the parent, a legal custodian, or an adult with whom the child is currently residing with.
In order to get a SPO, you have to file a petition with the court. To file for a SPO, the paperwork will need to include: your name, the name of the stalker, a detailed summary of the stalking behavior that you have experienced, and any evidence you may have of such experience (i.e., emails, texts, police reports, etc.). Unfortunately, if you do not have the name of the person stalking you, the court will not be able to process your protection order. The court cannot process an order against someone without first knowing who they are. If you do not know the name of your stalker, you will need to investigate with either your local law enforcement or through a private investigator.
Once the stalker is served with your petition, the stalker will have the opportunity to read and respond to your petition and you may have to face them in court. Once filed, your petition for a SPO will be considered a public record.
Calling the police is the best way to report that your stalker violated your SPO. Just in case the police ask for proof of the order, always be sure to have a copy of the order with you. If a stalker violates your SPO order, they may be arrested. Violation of an order is a gross misdemeanor which is punishable by imprisonment in county jail by up to 364 days and/or a fine of up to $5,000. In instances where a stalker has prior violations of protection orders, the violation is then considered a felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. The required forms and process to obtaining a SPO is referenced below in #2.
What are the required forms for a SPO?
Each case is different but there are four required forms for a SPO. Note that in Washington, filing for a protection order is a free service.
- Petition for an Order of Protection – This is where you will state who needs to be protected along with the specific details of the stalking conduct experienced. Again, you should attach as much evidence as possible associated with the alleged stalking (i.e., emails, texts, police reports, etc.). A Law Enforcement Information Sheet is where you will provide as much information as possible regarding the stalker (i.e., their address, workplace, phone number, etc.). This form is confidential and is only for the police to be able to serve the stalker and enter the SPO into police databases. Again, if you are unable to provide information about the stalker, you will need to investigate further with either your local law enforcement or through a private investigator.
Upon the court’s receipt of the petition, the court shall order a hearing no later than 14 days from the date of the order. The court may schedule a hearing by telephone and may issue a TPO (discussed below) pending the hearing.
- Temporary Protection Order (TPO) – A judge will only issue a TPO if: (1) petitioner is at least 16 years old, (2) petitioner has filed in the appropriate county, (3) petitioner has provided a detailed summary of the stalking conduct experienced, as well as the name of the stalker, and (4) petitioner has demonstrated good cause for the order.
To establish “good cause”, the petitioner will need to show that specific harm will result if the protective order is not issued. For example, if it appears that the petitioner could face irreparable injury, good cause is established and a TPO will likely be granted. “Irreparable injury” includes threats of bodily injury and acts of stalking conduct (i.e., being harassed and/or followed). Broad statements and conclusory allegations may not be enough for good cause; good cause descriptions need to be specific. Good cause is better proven through the use of affidavits and concrete examples of irreparable injury.
The TPO generally lasts for 14 days. The order can last for up to 24 days if the court has permitted service by mail or publication (service via newspaper). “Service” is the formal delivery of legal documents that notify a recipient of legal action they are involved in. This order may be renewed.
- Order for Protection (SPO) – If a court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the petitioner has been a victim of stalking conduct (i.e., being harassed, followed, or threatened), the court will issue a SPO. “Preponderance of the evidence” means the assertion is probably more true than not. A SPO replaces a TPO and is typically in effect for one year or longer, but can become permanent. Like a TPO, a SPO may also be renewed.
The petitioner cannot be denied a SPO simply because they or the stalker is a minor. Additionally, the petitioner cannot be denied simply because their stalking conduct was not reported to the police. Just like a TPO, the petitioner must also demonstrate good cause for a SPO.
- Return of Service – This must be filed with the court whenever a petition, a TPO, a SPO, or court summons is served on the stalker. In some instances, personal service – in-hand delivery of court documents – is required and is intended to alert recipients of impending legal proceedings. As stated previously, service can be conducted by mail or by publication when authorized by a court.
There are separate forms if the stalker possesses weapons (optional) and if the person seeking a SPO is under 18.
What if my stalker lives in another state?
If the stalker lives in another state, the court may lack jurisdiction to issue a SPO. “Jurisdiction” is the court’s power and authority to act. There are at least three ways in which the court could obtain jurisdiction over the out-of-state stalker:
- Personally serve the alleged stalker with the court petition while they’re in your state. This is also known as tag jurisdiction. If you cannot personally serve the stalker, your case may be dismissed.
- Obtain the consent of the out-of-state stalker via having them appear in court or filing a responsive document waiving any objection to jurisdiction.
- Determine whether the stalker has a substantial connection to your state. If the stalker made a substantial step to cross state lines to stalk you, this is enough evidence for jurisdiction in Washington. In other words, if the stalking incident occurred in-state, a Washington court has jurisdiction. Additionally, if the out-of-state stalker sends you harassing threats via letters, text messages, or phone calls and you receive or open such threats in-state, this is also enough evidence for jurisdiction in Washington. Any communication received, written, or sent inside Washington is considered to be an act from where the message originated and where the message was received.
If you are unable to obtain jurisdiction within your state, you can always file in a courthouse in the state of where the stalker lives.
What does a successful criminal stalking conviction entail?
A criminal stalking conviction requires evidence of two or more individual occurrences of harassment, following, or threats. It is repetition, not duration, that is the essential condition of stalking. It is the combination of the separate acts that must be detrimental to the victim (i.e., reasonable fear and/or emotional distress). In other words, it is not the time length of the stalking incident that matters but the number of times a stalking incident occurs and the detrimental effects that the victim suffers. To convict on the crime of stalking, each of the following must be proven:
- That on or about said date(s), stalker repeatedly (two or more occasions) followed or intentionally harassed petitioner;
- Petitioner was placed in fear that the stalker intended to injure them, another person, or property;
- That the fear was one that a reasonable person in the same situation would also experience under the circumstances;
- Stalker intended to frighten, threaten, or harass petitioner OR knew or reasonably should’ve known that petitioner was afraid, threatened, or harassed;
- Stalker acted without lawful authority; and
- Stalker violated petitioner’s protective order and such violation occurred in Washington.