In the 2022 General Assembly session, the Maryland Legislature expanded the law of Stalking. In response to decisions in the courts and to public sentiments against stalking behavior through electronic devices, Maryland lawmakers added a new provision to the Stalking law, which included cyberstalking as a potential basis for the criminal charge of stalking. Maryland Criminal Law Article §3-802 now prohibits the use of any form of electronic communication which “causes or which the person knows or reasonably should have known would cause serious emotional distress to another.”
The change to the law means that someone also commits the crime of stalking when that person repeatedly texts, emails, employs social media sites or uses any Internet-based communication tool to contact someone maliciously over time with the intent to scare them or to threaten them with violence. Stalking now also includes behavior that causes emotional distress to another or places them in fear of bodily harm, false imprisonment, or any sexual offense. It also prohibits the use of a device that can pinpoint or track the location of another without the person’s knowledge or consent.
Stalking, as before, still does not require a request by the intended victim for the offender to cease or desist the unwelcome behavior. Legislators voted to exclude the requirement of a warning to protect victims who feared retaliation against them because they had warned the offender to stop the unwanted behavior. The crime of Harassment (which will be addressed in a separate article) still requires the victim to demand that the perpetrator cease the unwanted conduct as one of the legal requirements of pursuing legal action.
Stalking victims still possess two different and distinctive legal tools to be used against a person who stalks them or a loved one. The first is a civil remedy: the person being stalked may file a petition for either a peace or protective order against the “stalker”. If proven, the person could receive an order by the judge barring the stalker from making any contact with them, directly or indirectly, for up to 6 months for a peace order and up to one year for a protective order.
The second avenue for relief involves the criminal process. Any victim of stalking may file criminal charges in the District Court of Maryland against the “stalker.” The filing of this charge requires you to meet with a Commissioner in the District Courthouse in the county where the conduct occurred. If the Commissioner issues charges, the alleged stalker would be served with either an arrest warrant or summons, and the Office of the States Attorney would prosecute them. If convicted, anyone charged with this crime faces a maximum possible penalty of 5 years in prison and/or a fine of $5000.
Modern technology can act as a double-edged sword. It can provide benefits unheard of decades ago. However, technology can also become a tool for threatening someone or causing them emotional distress. The Legislature now has given Maryland Courts the means to address the concerns of victims of stalking through electronic means.