Stalking

Natrona County sheriff’s investigator Taylor Courtney gives a presentation on a stalking case his department has worked on over the past several months during a conference in January at Casper College. Lawmakers will consider a bill during the 2018 legislative session that will enhance punishments for people convicted of stalking and expand the definition of the crime.

File, Star-Tribune

Wyoming lawmakers will again consider a bill that would broaden the definition of stalking and increase incarceration time for those convicted of the crime.

The Joint Judiciary Interim Committee sponsored a bill for the 2018 legislative session that would revise the state’s stalking statutes. If passed, the bill would increase the maximum punishment for misdemeanor stalking from six months to one year and increase the maximum penalty for felony stalking from five years to 10. The bill also gives judges the ability to sentence a person convicted of misdemeanor stalking to up to three years of probation.

The proposed bill also broadens the definition of harassment. Currently, Wyoming statutes define the term as “a course of conduct” that would make a reasonable person “suffer substantial emotional distress, and which does in fact seriously alarm the person toward whom it is directed.” The bill expands that definition to include actions that would make a reasonable person fear for their safety, that of another person or for the safety of their property.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines stalking as acts by an abuser that intentionally create a fear for the victim by threatening harm or death to themselves, a relative, property or any third party. A 2011 study found that one in every six women and one in every 19 men have been stalked in their lifetime.

Stalkers also often assault their victims — 81 percent of women who were stalked by an intimate partner were also physically attacked by them, according to the coalition.

A group of lawmakers introduced a similar bill during the 2017 legislative session, but it failed to pass out of the Senate Judiciary committee. The members of the committee wanted more time to study the issue and make sure the legal language was more clear before proceeding, according to a story from the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

“The bill in front of the committee now is a bit more of a comprehensive overview,” Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, said Thursday.

Pelkey was one of the lawmakers who sponsored the bill during the previous session and is a member of the interim committee sponsoring the 2018 version. One of the committee’s goals during the interim was to study statutes related to domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault and protective orders. During that review, a number of people who work in law enforcement and advocacy expressed their support for a draft of the bill, including a representative from the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and an investigator with the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office.

The bill also expands what constitutes felony stalking. Currently, a person can be convicted of the felony offense if they stalked someone in violation of certain types of protection orders or within five years of a previous stalking conviction. The bill would lengthen that time limit to 10 years and expand the types of protection orders included.

Finally, the bill would define the jurisdiction for stalking, which can be committed from afar via social media or the phone. If the bill is passed, a person could be charged with stalking in Wyoming if he or she stalked their victim from elsewhere but the victim was in the state at the time.

Pelkey said the bill could face challenges from people who do not want to lengthen sentences or think the changes are too broad, but he remained optimistic.

“I’m hopeful that there will be more support,” he said. “Overall, at least we’ll discuss the issue.”

Follow features editor Elise Schmelzer on Twitter @eliseschmelzer

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Features Editor

Elise Schmelzer joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 after graduating from the University of Missouri and interning at newspapers around the country. As features editor, she oversees arts and culture coverage and reports stories on a broad variety of topics.

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