I’ve been charged with harassment. Now what?
Knowingly annoying, alarming, or terrorizing another person regularly in a way that serves no lawful purpose is considered harassment under New Mexico law. Some people know exactly what they are doing when they act this way toward another person. It is their intent to upset the other individual or make them feel afraid. Other times, people may engage in harassment and not realize their actions rise to the level of criminal conduct until a police officer shows up on their doorsteps or they receive a summons in the mail.
What are the 3 types of harassment?
Harassment is classified into three categories. New Mexico law does not consider one type to be more serious than another. Harassing another person in any of these ways can earn you a visit from local law enforcement. Here are the three forms of harassment:
- Verbal or written harassment is one of the most common forms. Some of these communications may fall within the legal definition of sexual harassment, especially if they are made while on the job. Emails with offensive jokes or graphic descriptions about race or religion and making derogatory comments about characteristics of individuals also is harassment. Repeated texts or phone calls demanding dates or sexual favors also fall into this category. Verbal or written threats to do bodily harm to someone also is harassment.
- Physical harassment can be more difficult to recognize since offenders engage in their behavior subtly as not to draw the attention of others. Lewd hand gestures, playing music with suggestive lyrics, unwanted touching, and following or standing too close to another person on purpose all fall into physical harassment territory. Physical harassment is not always sexual in nature. Hitting, pushing, and other aggressive behavior is classified as physical harassment regardless of the motive behind it.
- Visual harassment can be even mor pervasive than physical harassment. It may include lewd or threatening hand gestures, showing someone pictures of a sexual or violent nature, or drawing derogatory or violent images.
When can you be charged with harassment?
Threatening physically harm another person or do damage to their property is enough to get a person investigated for harassment. If the victim has evidence that supports their harassment claim, the police may charge you. In New Mexico, harassment is a misdemeanor. Under some circumstances, harassment can be elevated to the level of a felony.
Sometimes offenders are not aware they have been charged with harassment until they receive a summons in the mail notifying them of the charges and a subsequent court date.
Are stalking and harassment the same thing?
No. In fact, the New Mexico legislature adopted a Harassment and Stalking Act (30-3A-2) in 2009 that differentiates between harassment and stalking. It is one of the few states that puts criminal harassment and stalking laws under separate statutes and penalties. Under the law, stalking is defined as knowingly pursuing a pattern of conduct that is directed at a specific person and places them in reasonable fear of bodily harm, confinement, death, or sexual assault. Stalking is a misdemeanor for a first offense. Subsequent offenses or convictions are fourth degree felonies.
Harassment involves engaging in a pattern of conduct that annoys, alarms, or terrorizes another person without legal justification. To be considered harassment, the perpetrators actions must rise to the level of causing serious emotional distress to the victim.
It is quite possible to be charged with both harassment and stalking, depending on the nature of the allegations made against you.
Penalties for harassment convictions
If you are convicted of a misdemeanor count of harassment in New Mexico, you can face up to six months to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. When charged as a fourth-degree felony, harassment convictions carry the possibility of 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine. Stiffer sentences are possible for perpetrators with criminal histories or a known pattern of engaging in harassing or stalking behaviors. Courts have the discretion of deferring prison sentences in favor of probation. A good criminal attorney can negotiate a plea agreement that includes probation instead of jail time.
Respond quickly to harassment charges
Harassment is a serious crime. Not only can being charged with harassment impact a person legally, but it also can harm their personal and professional reputation. If you have been charged with harassment or even questioned by authorities about accusations of harassment, you should contact an attorney skilled in criminal law who can review your rights and responsibilities with you.