You’ve seen Hairspray 57 times. A theatrical release poster of Cecil B. Demented graces your living room wall. Your autographed copy of Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America is your prized possession. But you are not, repeat, not invited to Mr. Waters’ Baltimore Christmas party, and when Ricky the doorman fails to convince you of this, things really get ugly. Now, you’re charged with stalking. What’s a fan to do?
There’s a distinct line between ardent adoration and criminal behavior – and it pays to know the difference. Let a legal professional explain to you just how much hot water you’re in.
In Maryland, stalking laws refer to a “malicious course of conduct that includes approaching or pursuing another where the person intends to place or knows or reasonably should have known the conduct would place another in reasonable fear” of a number of consequences. These consequences include serious bodily injury, assault, rape, false imprisonment, and death. And even if it was only the doorman you were threatening, it’s still a crime if the one you’re stalking is afraid that a third person will suffer any of those nasty consequences.
Stalking requires a persistent pattern of conduct. You might have gotten away with trying to crash John Waters’ party one time. But showing up on his doorstep every December for the last twelve years armed with a rope and handcuffs is not cool. Even the man who lives to offend has his limits, and if you’re found guilty of stalking him, you’re looking at up to five years in prison or a fine up to $5,000, or both.
As if that weren’t enough, your malicious pestering can also get you charged with harassment. Harassment can be a course of conduct but, unlike stalking, it doesn’t have to be. Even if there was only that one time you followed the object of your affection around in public for four hours from bookstore to bookstore, if you “alarmed” or “seriously annoyed” him with no legal purpose, and refused to stop when asked, you can be charged with harassment. That’s another 90 days in jail and a possible $500 fine. Next time, try not to be so annoying.
Limited Exceptions under the Law
You probably should have brought some “John Waters for President” flyers with you. If you were engaged in “a peaceable activity intended to express a political view or provide information to others,” it’s not harassment. And if your conduct was performed to ensure compliance with a court order, to carry out a lawful commercial purpose, or “authorized, required, or protected by local, State, or federal law,” carry on; you’re not a stalker. You’re just weird.
Crossing the Line
Sometimes people can genuinely engage in conduct that is harmless, and the focus of their attention overreacts. Hey, it happens. Whether your charges came about as the result of a misunderstanding or you really did cross that line, don’t be a Cry-Baby. Call a lawyer.