University of Southern California

Stalking

What is Stalking

Stalking is a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. 

The California Penal Code defines stalking as willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following or willfully and maliciously harassing another person and making a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family”. 

“Course of conduct” means behavior composed of more than one act across a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of purpose. “Harassment” means willful conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes the person and that serves no legitimate purpose. 

"Credible threat" means a verbal or written threat, including that performed through the use of an electronic communication device, or a threat implied by a pattern of conduct or a combination of verbal, written, or electronically communicated statements and conduct, made with the intent to place the person that is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family, and made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat so as to cause the person who is the target of the threat to reasonably fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family.

It is not necessary for the defendant to actually have the intent to carry out the threat, only that the victim fear for her or his safety.  A person who is currently incarcerated may still be charged with stalking, demonstrating that stalking is more than just following, and includes a wide array of threatening activities.