Have you been charged with harassment? While not a felony, a misdemeanor harassment charge still carries the potential for serious consequences. If convicted, you could face incarceration, probation, fines, community service, and mandatory counseling. In some cases, the charges alone can seriously harm your career, as employers are often reluctant to hire or promote employees with a criminal record.
What ultimately happens after you’re charged with harassment depends on the unique circumstances of your case. You may be able to avoid jail time if you have a clean criminal record, though a conviction would still likely result in a fine, probation, and/or community service. You may also be required to complete an applicable counseling program, such as anger management, domestic violence counseling, or sex offender treatment.
Arizona Criminal Harassment Laws Explained
Under Arizona law, harassment includes “conduct that is directed at a specific person and that would cause a reasonable person to be seriously alarmed, annoyed, or harassed, and the conduct in fact seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses the person” (ARS 13-2921).
What Exactly Constitutes Harassment in Arizona?
The law provides six examples, all of which require the offending party to act with intent to harass or with an understanding that they are harassing the victim:
- Anonymously or otherwise contacting, communicating, or causing a communication with another person by verbal, electronic, mechanical, telegraphic, telephonic, or written means in a manner that harasses.
- Continuing to follow another person in or about a public place for no legitimate purpose after being asked to stop.
- Repeatedly committing an act or acts that harass another person.
- Surveilling or causing another person to surveil a person for no legitimate purpose.
- Making a false report to law enforcement, credit agencies, or social service agencies on more than one occasion.
- Interfering with the delivery of any public or regulated utility to a person.
While harassment via electronic communication is briefly addressed in ARS 13-2921, the use of an electronic communication to terrify, intimidate, threaten, or harass someone is addressed separately in ARS 13-2916. In this context, electronic communication involves electronic mail (email), instant messages, text messages, phone calls, cables, and wire lines.
- Directing obscene, lewd, or profane language, or suggesting lewd or lascivious acts to someone in an electronic communication.
- Threatening to inflict physical harm to someone or their property in an electronic communication.
- Disturbing someone’s peace, quiet, or right of privacy with repeated anonymous, unwanted, or unsolicited electronic communications.
Note that under ARS 13-2916, Arizona law grants jurisdiction to the place where the electronic communications are received. That means jurisdiction is based on the victim’s location, not the alleged harasser. As a result, a defendant who resides in another state may be charged with harassment in the state of Arizona.
Criminal Harassment vs. Civil Harassment
Criminal harassment and civil harassment cases are separate matters. In a criminal harassment case, the district attorney files charges against you in criminal court for breaking state harassment laws. Your case will be assigned to a local prosecutor who will pursue justice on behalf of the victim. A conviction or plea deal will result in criminal penalties such as incarceration, fines, probation, community service, and counseling.
In a civil harassment case, the victim sues you directly for damages related to a violation of federal, state, or local employment laws. This type of case proceeds through civil court — not criminal court. As such, only monetary penalties apply. While there’s no risk of incarceration in a civil case, the monetary penalties may be significantly higher than the fines applied in a criminal case.
Employment-related harassment cases in civil court are almost always accompanied by a state or federal investigation into workplace misconduct. In fact, most laws require that a victim file a formal complaint with the appropriate regulatory agency (e.g. the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Industrial Commission of Arizona) before filing a harassment suit in civil court. Should you find yourself the subject of an employment-related investigation or civil harassment suit, you should discuss your case with an employment attorney rather than a criminal attorney.
Can a Harassment Victim Sue for Emotional Damages?
Monetary damages don’t apply in criminal harassment cases, but the victim (or the victim’s parent or guardian if the victim is a minor) has the right to file a civil suit seeking compensation for emotional damages stemming from the alleged harassment. The victim can also file for a restraining order or injunction.
While the American legal system dictates that a person must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases, the same standard does not apply in civil cases. Even if you prevail in your criminal case and have the harassment charges successfully dropped, you may find yourself liable to monetary damages in civil court.
Penalties For Harassment in Arizona
Harassment is considered a class 1 misdemeanor in Arizona. A defendant who is convicted of a class 1 misdemeanor may be subject to the following penalties:
- Up to six months in jail
- Fines of up to $2,500
- Community restitution
- Education / treatment programs
In harassment cases where the defendant violates a protective order or injunction against harassing the victim, the judge may elevate the charge to aggravated harassment. A first-time aggravated harassment charge is a class 6 felony. Any subsequent aggravated harassment charges may be upgraded to a class 5 felony, carrying even harsher penalties.
Defendants who have previously been convicted of domestic violence may also be charged with aggravated harassment. In this case, aggravated harassment related to domestic violence jumps straight to a class 5 felony.
Defending Against Harassment Charges
The most common defense against a harassment charge is to dispute the allegation that you meant to harass the victim. If it can be proven that your actions were not intended to harass the victim, and that a reasonable person should not have been alarmed, annoyed, or harassed by your actions, you have a much better chance of the charges being dropped or reduced.
Of course, there are a number of ways to defend yourself against harassment charges, and the best strategy for you depends on the unique details of your case. This is why hiring a criminal defense attorney to represent you, or at the very least consulting with an attorney about your case, is the best way to ensure an optimal outcome.
Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.