Criminal Harassment

Criminal Harassment is a serious crime that carries the possibility of jail time. A second or subsequent conviction carries a possible state prison sentence.

Elements of Criminal Harassment

In order to convict a defendant of criminal harassment, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. The defendant participated in a pattern of conduct over time which was directed at a specific person (the victim) and which was willful, malicious, and knowing; and
  2. The conduct seriously alarmed the victim and would have caused substantial emotional distress to any reasonable person.

The Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that a “pattern of conduct or series of acts” requires at least three separate incidences.

Common Defenses and Defense Strategies

Criminal harassment cases can be defended in a variety of ways.

  • Lack of Intent - The Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant willfully and maliciously engaged in a knowing pattern of conduct or series of acts. If the defendant’s conduct was not willful and malicious, he or she cannot be convicted of criminal harassment. For example, if a defendant loudly plays a radio every day and the noise seriously alarms a neighbor, the defendant cannot be convicted of criminal harassment unless the Commonwealth proves that he or she maliciously played the radio (to bother the neighbor).
  • Reasonableness of Victim’s “Serious Alarm” - The Commonwealth needs to prove that the alleged victim was seriously alarmed by the defendant’s conduct and that a reasonable person in the alleged victim’s position would suffer substantial emotional distress. Therefore, the Commonwealth cannot prove its case by simply having an over-sensitive alleged victim. It must prove that a reasonable person would suffer serious emotional distress by the defendant’s alleged conduct.
  • Alleged Victim’s Criminal Record -If the alleged victim has a criminal record or a history of violence, Attorney Spring will attempt to present this information to the jury. Criminal convictions are generally admissible within a certain time frame (convictions for misdemeanors within the last five years are admissible; convictions for felonies within the last 10 years are admissible). History of violence evidence (also called “prior bad act” evidence) is generally admissible to impeach the alleged victim. Attorney Spring has extensive experience litigating these types of issues.
  • Bias - In most criminal harassment cases that go to trial, there is bad blood between the defendant and the alleged victim. The alleged victim ordinarily wants to see the defendant convicted and punished. The alleged victim’s desire for revenge will be fully exposed on cross-examination.

Criminal harassment cases are emotionally charged because they usually involve long-standing grievances between the parties. Whether the charges result from the end of a long romantic relationship or years’ worth of bad feelings between neighbors, the allegations are typically ugly and the alleged victims are ordinarily very invested in the case. Therefore, most of these cases go to trial.

Attorney Spring prosecuted criminal harassment cases when he served as an assistant district attorney early in his career, and he has defended clients charged with criminal harassment since founding Spring & Spring. He has the knowledge and experience to aggressively defend you if you have been charged with criminal harassment.

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