CHEYENNE — Domestic violence advocates achieved a small victory in an ongoing effort to strengthen Wyoming’s stalking laws, following a similar measure’s failure in the Legislature last year.
The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill expanding the definition of stalking and creating harsher penalties for individuals convicted of the offense, sending it to the full House for consideration.
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If the bill becomes law, an individual could be convicted of stalking if they engage in a pattern of behavior that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their personal safety or that of another person. It would also expand jurisdiction in state law, to allow prosecutors to charge individuals for behavior that takes place across state lines or even international borders.
“This bill reflects what my agency, which is working with victims on a basis, is seeing,” said Cara Chambers, who heads the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office Victim Services Division.
A similar bill failed last year in the Senate over concerns about some of the language in the bill and the measure approved by the judiciary committee Tuesday faces an uncertain fate when it reaches the full House.
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Committee chair Dan Kirkbride, R-Chugwater, said that despite his committee’s approval, some lawmakers will still be concerned about whether the changes would open people up to false accusations of stalking by accusers exaggerating behavior that is ordinary in romantic relationships.
Tara Muir, public policy director at the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said that the expanded definitions were necessary because perpetrators of stalking take advantage of the current ambiguity.
“Intimate relations get very twisted and batterers and stalkers know that,” she said.
As an example, she said that a man might put a dozen red roses on a former girlfriend’s doorstep and claim to law enforcement that it was a romantic gesture.
“But what we know from talking to victims is: ‘No, he said he was going to lay 12 red roses on my grave because he was going to kill me and now they’re on my porch,” Muir said. She added that while there is a stereotype of scorned women making false accusations, woman are as likely to lie about being stalked as anyone is to lie about being the victim of any crime.
Muir said that stalking often escalates into violence and sometimes even murder.
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The committee did agree to reduce the period of monitoring following a conviction for stalking from 10 years to five at the request of Department of Corrections Director Bob Lampert, who said it was important to allow the chance for those who have completed their sentence to see “light at the end of the tunnel.”
“We’re in the business of corrections and we have to believe people do have the ability to change,” Lampert said.
The bill passed the committee nine to zero.
Toward the end of the discussion Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, attempted to offer a friendly amendment that would have added some additional language to the bill but Muir said that could wait for another year.
“We really want this bill to move,” she said. “We’ve waited too long.”