When emotions get the better of a person, especially during a domestic dispute, words begin to fly. People say things that they don’t intend in the heat of the moment. If those words are threatening and cause legitimate concern that the threat will be carried out, the crime of harassment may have occurred. And it isn’t the subjective intent of the person who is doing the threatening that is the issue. The threat may be a hollow one. But if the person who is being threatened is placed in reasonable fear, the reporting of that threat to the police will likely lead to the charge of criminal harassment.
Elements of Harassment
You can be charged with harassment in Washington State if you threaten another person with immediate or future bodily injury, physical damage to the property of another, to physically restrain another person or maliciously act in any way intended to substantially harm the threatened person’s physical or mental safety or health. Additionally, the words and conduct must place the threatened person in “reasonable fear” that the threat could be carried out. Also, the communication of the threat could come in any form, including electronic communication. These elements are listed in RCW 9A.46.020 and would be charged as a crime of domestic violence if a domestic relationship has been established.
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 have been no previous incidents of “harassment” between the defendant and the victim or victim’s family and the threat was not “to kill”, 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 crime of harassment, please see RCW 9A.46.060.
If you or someone you know has been arrested or are under investigation or have been charged with harassment, or simply have questions about the law of criminal harassment in Washington State, call one of our Washington DV lawyers for a consultation or further information.