Is Stalking a Felony in California?

Woman in pink jacket carrying brown handbag using phone looking over her shoulder at stalker in black in background

Stalking is illegal across all 50 states, and California takes the crime seriously. This is unsurprising: over 13.5 million people are stalked each year in the US, and it can have fatal consequences. 

But is stalking illegal in CA? And is it a felony or misdemeanor offense? Let’s take a look at what the law says. 

What Is Stalking?

California Penal Code Section 646.9 defines stalking. In simple terms, stalking is following, threatening, or maliciously harassing someone to the point where they fear for their safety. To bring a stalking charge, prosecutors must prove that the defendant:

  • Acted deliberately and repeatedly; and
  • Intended to cause the victim to fear for their safety, or their immediate family’s safety; and
  • Stalked or harassed the victim or made credible threats. 

The threats may be verbal, in writing, or by electronic means e.g. through email or text messages. What’s crucial is that the perpetrator knew that their actions would alarm or frighten a reasonable person. The acts must put a person in reasonable fear for their safety to count as stalking.

Examples of Stalking

Stalking can be anything from annoying phone calls to serious acts of intimidation. Here are some examples of behavior which could be considered stalking:

  • Repeatedly following the victim without a legitimate explanation. 
  • Sending multiple unwanted messages at unsocial hours.  
  • Repeatedly sending the victim gifts despite being told to stop. 
  • Showing up at the victim’s home or place of work without explanation. 
  • Gathering surveillance on the victim e.g. taking pictures without their knowledge or spying on them online (cyberstalking). 

Stalking often involves a romantic element e.g. the victim rejected the perpetrator. However, stalking happens for various reasons. It’s often charged alongside crimes such as:

You need a criminal defense attorney’s help urgently if you’re facing stalking charges in CA. 

Is Stalking a Felony Charge?

In CA, stalking is a “wobbler” crime. It can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. The charges depend on various factors, including:

  • The defendant’s criminal history
  • The severity of the defendant’s actions
  • Whether the actions violate another court order e.g. a civil protective order 

For a misdemeanor stalking charge, the punishments include:

  • Summary probation
  • $1000 fine
  • Up to 12 months in county jail

Felony stalking charges could result in:

  • Felony probation
  • $1000 fine
  • Up to five years in state prison 

When Is Stalking Always a Felony?

Sometimes, there’s no option but to charge stalking as a felony. The prosecution must charge the defendant with felony stalking if:

  • The actions violate a restraining order; or
  • The defendant has prior stalking convictions (even if it’s a different victim). 

Felony stalking charges are common in domestic violence cases because they often involve restraining order violations. 

Is Cyberstalking a Felony?

Black smartphone incoming call blocked caller ID person preparing to press red ignore button

Cyberstalking can be a felony in CA. Here are some examples. 

  • The victim has a protective order against the defendant. The defendant repeatedly contacts the victim via text message, threatening to hurt them. 
  • The defendant has a previous misdemeanor stalking conviction. They begin following and harassing another person online. 
  • The defendant sets up fake profiles to repeatedly harass, threaten, or alarm someone who has a protective order against them.  

Just because it’s online doesn’t mean the police take cyberstalking less seriously. It can have steep long-term consequences. 

Is Aggravated Stalking a Felony? 

Aggravated stalking means there are more serious components to the charge. These components include using a weapon or threatening to use a weapon. They may also involve bodily harm to the victim. 

Aggravated stalking charges are typically felony charges. They could result in additional jail time just for the aggravating factor. So, you might face five years in jail for the aggravating factor plus five years for the felony stalking charge.  

Will I Go to Jail for Stalking?

You won’t always go to jail. You could be placed on probation or forced to pay a fine instead. A criminal defense attorney can help you defend your case and, where possible, have the charges reduced or dismissed.  

Can I Get Bail for Stalking?

Yes. Judges in CA can grant bail for stalking charges. If you can’t afford to post the full bail amount, bail bondsmen can help. 
Do you need bail bonds after a stalking charge? Call Bail Hotline. We’re standing by 24/7 to help you secure your loved one’s release. Call us or visit our CA office locations to get the help and support you deserve.

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