What are the stalking and harassment laws in SC?
If you are accused of stalking or harassment, you could be arrested and face as much as fifteen years in prison depending on the circumstances. But you also may have defenses based on the facts of your case and SC’s stalking/ harassment laws.
If someone is harassing you, you may be able to get a restraining order from the local magistrate if you can show that the person is violating SC’s harassment/ stalking laws.
In this article, we will discuss:
- What constitutes harassment under SC law,
- What constitutes stalking under SC law,
- The degrees of harassment under SC law, and
- How to get a restraining order if you are being harassed by someone else.
Harassment and Stalking Laws in SC
Harassment or stalking is when a person repeatedly contacts or even follows another person, causing them emotional distress or fear.
The penalties increase based on the severity of the allegations, with harassment second-degree being the least serious and stalking charges the most severe.
South Carolina Charges for Harassment and Stalking
Harassment Second Degree
SC Code § 16-3-1700(B) defines harassment in the second degree as “a pattern of intentional, substantial, and unreasonable intrusion into the private life of a targeted person that serves no legitimate purpose and causes the person and would cause a reasonable person in his position to suffer mental or emotional distress.”
Harassment in the second degree may include, but is not limited to, verbal, written, or electronic contact that is initiated, maintained, or repeated.
Second-degree harassment consists of repeated unwanted communications and doesn’t require the person’s physical presence. It “may include, but is not limited to, verbal, written, or electronic contact that is initiated, maintained, or repeated.”
This could mean repeated and unwanted:
- Text messages,
- Phone calls, or
- Any other type of unwanted communications.
The penalties for a second-degree harassment conviction can range from a maximum of 30 days to a maximum of one year in prison if the person has a prior conviction for harassment or stalking within the past ten years or if they were violating a restraining order at the time of the offense (SC Code § 16-3-1710).
Harassment First Degree
First-degree harassment, found in SC Code § 16-3-1700(A), is more serious than second-degree harassment, and it usually involves physical contact or following the alleged victim.
Like second-degree harassment, first-degree harassment requires proof that the person engaged in “a pattern of intentional, substantial, and unreasonable intrusion into the private life of a targeted person that serves no legitimate purpose and causes the person and would cause a reasonable person in his position to suffer mental or emotional distress.”
It must go beyond simply sending unwanted communications to the person, however. First-degree harassment could mean:
- Following the alleged victim from place to place,
- Visual or physical contact that is continued after the person has been notified that the contact is unwanted or after an incident report has been filed,
- Surveillance of the alleged victim or maintaining a presence at the alleged victim’s home, work, school, or any other place regularly occupied or visited by the alleged victim, or
- Vandalism and property damage.
The penalties for a harassment first degree conviction can range from a maximum of three years in prison if there is no prior record to a maximum of five years of prison if the person has a prior conviction for harassment or stalking within the past ten years (SC Code § 16-3-1720).
Stalking, found in SC Code § 16-3-1700(C), could consist of unwanted communications or physical presence. The difference between harassment and stalking is the degree of fear the person’s actions are intended to cause.
Stalking is “a pattern of words, whether verbal, written, or electronic, or a pattern of conduct that serves no legitimate purpose and is intended to cause and does cause a targeted person and would cause a reasonable person in the targeted person’s position to fear:
(1) death of the person or a member of his family;
(2) assault upon the person or a member of his family;
(3) bodily injury to the person or a member of his family;
(4) criminal sexual contact on the person or a member of his family;
(5) kidnapping of the person or a member of his family; or
(6) damage to the property of the person or a member of his family.
(D) “Pattern” means two or more acts occurring over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of purpose.
(E) “Family” means a spouse, child, parent, sibling, or a person who regularly resides in the same household as the targeted person.
Stalking is the most serious offense of the three, and it can carry:
- Up to five years in prison if there is no prior record or restraining order,
- Up to ten years in prison if the person is under a restraining order at the time of the offense, or
- Up to 15 years in prison if the person has a prior conviction for harassment or stalking within the past ten years (SC Code § 16-3-1730).
How to Get a Restraining Order in SC
SC Code § 16-2-1750 authorizes a magistrate to issue a temporary restraining order against a person who is engaged in first-degree harassment, second-degree harassment, or stalking.
To get a restraining order, you will need to prove the elements of one of these offenses, and you will need to file a complaint in the magistrate court that includes:
- Facts that show the defendant engaged in stalking or harassment,
- Any other facts that would justify the restraining order,
- A verification, and
- Notice to the defendant including that the defendant has a right to counsel.
The magistrate can hold an emergency hearing pursuant to SC Code § 16-3-1760 within 24 hours after the Complaint is filed, and the magistrate can issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) without giving notice to the defendant of the emergency hearing.
If the magistrate holds an emergency hearing and issues a temporary restraining order, the TRO and Complaint must then be served on the defendant along with a Rule to Show Cause why the TRO should not be extended for one year.
A full hearing is then scheduled – within 15 days but no less than five days after the defendant is served – where the defendant can address the allegations (with counsel), and the magistrate will either 1) extend the restraining order for one year, or 2) vacate the restraining order.
Penalties for Violating a Restraining Order
In addition to the increased penalties for committing harassment or stalking while violating a restraining order, a violation of the order itself is a criminal offense that carries up to 30 days in jail.
Questions About Harassment and Stalking Laws in SC?
Lexington, South Carolina criminal defense lawyer Kent Collins may be able to help you if you 1) have been charged with harassment or stalking in SC, 2) need to obtain a restraining order based on harassment or stalking, or 3) need defense counsel to respond to an action for a restraining order in the magistrate court.
Get in touch with Kent by phone at 803-808-0905 or use this form to reach him online to schedule your in-person consultation.
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