Harassment charges may not carry the longest prison sentences on the books, but a conviction can still plague your career for life. It’s a serious criminal charge that carries severe long-term consequences.
Whether you’ve been accused of harassment in the workplace or formally charged with committing a crime, this article will cover everything you need to know about harassment laws in Arizona. We’ll discuss what qualifies as harassment in the state of Arizona before delving into the following important topics:
- Harassment against a private party
- Harassment against a public official or employee
- Aggravated harassment
- Penalties for harassment in Arizona
- Possible defenses against harassment charges
- What to do if you’re facing charges for harassment in Arizona
If you have been charged with harassment in Arizona, it’s imperative that you meet with a criminal attorney as soon as possible. Our attorneys will help you to present a valid defense in court, and they may be able to have the charges against you lowered or dropped altogether.
What is Harassment?
Arizona law defines harassment as “conduct that is directed at a specific person and that would cause a reasonable person to be seriously alarmed, annoyed or harassed” (ARS 13-2921). Interestingly, that means it’s not legally considered harassment if the victim doesn’t feel seriously alarmed, annoyed, or harassed.
Harassment against a Private Party in Arizona
In order to be charged with harassment in Arizona, you must act with the intent to harass or with knowledge that you are harassing another person. It’s difficult to prove knowledge and intent in court, making this a common defense in harassment cases.
Assuming you acted with intent or sufficient knowledge, Arizona law classifies the following six actions as harassment:
- Contacting, communicating, or causing communication 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 one or more acts that harass someone
- Surveilling or causing another person to surveil someone 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 another person
If convicted, this type of harassment charge is a class 1 misdemeanor in Arizona.
Harassment against a Public Officer or Employee in Arizona
To protect state-employed officers and employees from harassment, Arizona prohibits filing a non-consensual lien against public employees and officers unless one of the following conditions are met:
- The lien is accompanied by a court order or judgement
- The lien is issued by a government entity, subdivision, or agency
- The lien is issued by a licensed utility or water delivery company
- The lien is issued by mechanics’ lien claimant
- The lien is issued by an entity created under covenants, restrictions, conditions, or declarations affecting real property
In such cases, harassment against a public officer or employee is considered a class 5 felony.
Aggravated Harassment in Arizona
For repeat harassment offenses that involve the same victim, Arizona law allows the defendant to be charged with aggravated harassment in two scenarios:
- The victim is currently protected by a valid court order of protection or injunction
- The defendant was previously convicted of domestic violence under ARS 13-3601
A defendant who is convicted of aggravated assault under the first condition is guilty of a class 6 felony. Repeat offenders are upgraded to a class 5 felony.
A defendant who is convicted of aggravated assault under the second condition face a class 5 felony.
Penalties for Harassment in Arizona
Depending on the situation, harassment charges in Arizona can range from a class 1 misdemeanor to a class 5 felony. Following is a brief overview of the legal consequences that each of these classifications carry.
Class 1 Misdemeanor
Class 6 Felony
A class 6 felony for a first-time offender carries a maximum prison sentence of 1.5 years, while an aggravated felony extends the maximum sentence to 2 years (ARS 13-702). For repeat offenders the maximum sentence increases to 2.25 – 4.5 years, or 2.75 – 5.75 years for aggravated felonies.
Felonies in Arizona also carry a maximum fine of $150,000.
Class 5 Felony
A class 5 felony for a first-time offender carries a maximum prison sentence of 2 years, while an aggravated felony extends the maximum sentence to 2.5 years. For repeat offenders the maximum sentence increases to 3 – 6 years, or 3.75 – 7.5 years for aggravated felonies.
Possible Defenses against Harassment Charges in Arizona
When you meet with your criminal defense attorney, he or she will discuss possible defenses to have the charges against you lowered or dropped. There are a number of options at your disposal, though there are four that stand out as the most common:
- Proving lack of intent or knowledge
- Proving that the victim was not seriously alarmed, annoyed or harassed
- Lowering the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor
- Miranda rights violations
Proving Lack of Intent or Knowledge
Arizona’s harassment laws require that the defendant acts with direct intent to harass the victim, or with direct knowledge that their actions are harassing the victim. That means that even if the defendants actions alarm, annoy, or harass the victim, the defendant cannot be charged with harassment if they didn’t intend to or know they were causing harm.
Proving that the Victim was Not Seriously Alarmed, Annoyed or Harassed
This is a common defense when harassment charges are not filed or endorsed by the victim — instead, they’re pressed by a concerned family member or overzealous prosecutor without the victim’s consent.
In this case, while the defendant may know they were harassing the victim and their actions qualify as harassment, the charge isn’t valid unless the victim in fact felt harassed. For example, if the victim interpreted the defendant’s actions as an act of loving concern or a one-off, uncharacteristic incident and subsequently refuses to press charges, the defendant should not be charged with harassment.
Lowering the Charge from a Felony to a Misdemeanor
ARS 13-604 allows Arizona courts to lower a class 6 felony to a class 1 misdemeanor in certain situations, notably when the action is non-violent and it’s a first-time offense. Even if you’re guilty of harassment, taking advantage of this opportunity can mean the difference between spending 6 months in jail instead of 2 years in prison.
Miranda Rights Violations
Arguing that your case involves a Miranda rights violation may be the most common defense in criminal court. In short, the arresting officer is required to read you your rights, and you’re entitled to every single one of them.
If law enforcement fails to deliver on either end, the judge can throw out evidence and testimony against you that was collected unlawfully. In some cases, a serious Miranda rights violation may even result in the prosecutor dropping the charges against you.
What to Do if You’re Facing Charges for Harassment in Arizona
When you’re facing criminal charges in Arizona, it’s important to meet with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
You have the right to an attorney when you’re arrested, and you should exercise that right before speaking with law enforcement — even if they offer you a deal that will allegedly be “off the table” when you lawyer arrives. The truth is, an experienced criminal defense attorney will always be able to negotiate a better deal than anything you’re offered during interrogation.
Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.
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