The crime of harassment is defined in RCW 9A.46.020. It will carry a domestic violence (DV) designation if the relationship between the defendant and the victim qualifies it as such pursuant to RCW 10.99.020 and RCW 26.50.010. (See also What is Domestic Violence?)
Elements of Harassment
Pursuant to RCW 9A.46.020 a person is guilty of harassment if:
(a) Without lawful authority, that person knowingly threatens:
(i) To cause bodily injury immediately or in the future to the person threatened or to any other person; or
(ii) To cause physical damage to the property of a person other than the actor; or
(iii) To subject the person threatened or any other person to physical confinement or restraint; or
(iv) Maliciously to do any other act which is intended to substantially harm the person threatened or another with respect to his or her physical or mental health or safety; and
(b) The person by words or conduct places the person threatened in reasonable fear that the threat will be carried out. "Words or conduct" includes, in addition to any other form of communication or conduct, the sending of an electronic communication.
(2)(a) Except as provided in (b) of this subsection, a person who harasses another is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.
(b) A person who harasses another is guilty of a class C felony if either of the following applies: (i) The person has previously been convicted in this or any other state of any crime of harassment, as defined in RCW 9A.46.060, of the same victim or members of the victim's family or household or any person specifically named in a no-contact or no-harassment order; or (ii) the person harasses another person under subsection (1)(a)(i) of this section by threatening to kill the person threatened or any other person.
(3) The penalties provided in this section for harassment do not preclude the victim from seeking any other remedy otherwise available under law.
Felony Harassment vs. Gross Misdemeanor Harassment
Important to note is that the same or similar conduct can be classified as either a felony or a gross misdemeanor depending upon the relationship and history between the parties and what was said that made the action "harassment." If there has been no previous incidents of "harassment" between the defendant and the victim or victim's family and the threat was not "to kill", the the action would be classified as a gross misdemeanor. As such it is punishable by up to 365 days in jail and a $5,000.00 fine. Additionally, if it is indeed designated as a crime of domestic violence, other consequences would apply as well. See Domestic Violence Penalties.
If, however, a crime of harassment had been previously committed against the victim or the victim's family, or threats to kill were allegedly made, the action becomes a Class C Felony punishable by up to five (5) years in jail and a $10,000.00 fine. Felony Harassment carries with it a Seriousness Level III meaning that a conviction, even for someone with no felony history would result in a jail sentence of at least one to three month. See RCW 9.94A.510, the Washington State Felony Sentencing Grid, for more information on prospective jail sentences. For a comprehensive list of what constitutes a crimes of harassment, please see RCW 9A.46.060.
If you or someone you know has any questions regarding the distinctions made above, have been arrested or are under investigation or have been charges with harassment, call one of our Washington DV lawyers for a consultation or further information.