A conviction for criminal harassment may lead to jail time, and a second or subsequent conviction carries a possible state prison sentence.
In order to convict a defendant of criminal harassment, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
The Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that a “pattern of conduct or series of acts” requires at least three separate incidences.
There are various defense strategies in criminal harassment cases.
The prosecutor is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant maliciously and willfully participated in a series of acts or a pattern of conduct. If the defendant was not behaving maliciously or willfully, he or she is not guilty 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).
The prosecutor is required to prove the defendant’s behavior seriously alarmed the alleged victim, and the defendant’s conduct would result in a reasonable person suffering substantial emotional distress. Therefore, the Commonwealth cannot rely on a particularly skittish alleged victim who is emotionally distressed by the defendant’s conduct, where such conduct would not cause a reasonable person to suffer from substantial emotional distress.
In many criminal harassment cases, the defendant and the alleged victim have a long history of antagonism toward one another. Sometimes, the alleged victim will have been convicted of his own crimes. If the alleged victim has a criminal record and his convictions are recent, Attorney Spring may be able to persuade a judge to allow the convictions to be introduced to the jury. If the alleged victim harassed the defendant at any point during the relationship, this evidence also may be admitted at trial as a “prior bad act.”
An alleged victim of criminal harassment will be invested in the case and will do everything possible to help the prosecutor build a strong case, particularly because the actions that led to the criminal charges typically occurred over a substantial period of time. Attorney Spring will cross-examine the alleged victim and point out the bad feelings that exist between the parties. The existence of bad blood will allow Attorney Spring to argue to the jury that the alleged victim has an incentive to provide false evidence against the defendant.
Criminal harassment cases usually involve a substantial history of hostility between the alleged victim and the defendant. Some cases arise from an ugly breakup of a marriage or dating relationship, or built up frustrations between next-door neighbors. The allegations against the defendant are usually unpleasant and the alleged victims are usually happy to help the prosecutor in any way possible, which results in many criminal harassment cases going to trial.
When Middlesex County criminal defense attorney Chris Spring worked in the District Attorney’s Office at the beginning of his career, he prosecuted criminal harassment cases. Since founding his own criminal defense firm more than a decade ago, he has represented many clients charged with criminal harassment. He is prepared to aggressively defend your case regardless of whether you have been accused of aggravated armed burglary or stalking.