Anxiety. Anger. Fear. All of these are examples of the gut-wrenching emotions suffered by people who have been stalked and harassed by someone else. Victims of stalking begin to fear answering their phones or receiving text messages. They become scared for their safety when they walk to their cars or are by themselves in public. The constant, nagging fear of having to always look over one’s shoulder can become crippling to a victim. A stalker takes a huge psychological and physical toll on their victims.
We all know what stalking is, but how is stalking defined in South Carolina law? The South Carolina Legislature has made stalking someone is a criminal offense. Stalking is defined as follows:
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.
S.C. Code of Laws Ann. § 16-3-1700(c). A “pattern,” as described above, means two or more acts occurring over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of purpose.
A person who is convicted of stalking someone in South Carolina is charged with a felony and can face a penalty of up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.00. A person who engages in stalking when an injunction or restraining order, including a restraining order issued by the family court, is in effect prohibiting this conduct is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, faces a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $7,500.00. A person who engages in stalking and who has a prior conviction of harassment or stalking within the preceding ten years is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, faces up to fifteen years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.00.
What can someone do if they feel they are the victim of stalking?
There are two types of restraining orders in South Carolina. One restraining order originates in the Family Court and is issued by a Family Court Judge and is known as an “Order of Protection.”. This type of restraining order stops someone who is a member of your household (such as an abusive spouse) from threatening, contacting, or interfering with you. If you are trying to restrain another person such as someone who is harassing or stalking you, you may seek a Restraining Order which is granted by a Magistrate.
Any person may seek a restraining order against an individual who is engaged in harassment or stalking. S.C. Code Ann. § 16-3-1750(A) vests magistrates with jurisdiction over an action seeking a restraining order. A restraining order may be issued: 1) with prior notice of a hearing to the defendant and 2) without notice to the defendant in an emergency situation. Cases for Restraining Orders must involve at least 2 incidents of harassment, stalking, or other threatening situations, and they must have occurred within the last 90 days. There is no filing fee. You will also be asked to fill out a complaint and motion. A hearing date will be set for 5 to 15 days from the date you file your paperwork in the Magistrates’ Court. This gives the court time to arrange for the papers to be served on the person named as the Defendant. Complaints will be served by a Sheriff’s Deputy or a constable. The defendant must be served before the hearing can take place. A Magistrates’ Restraining Order is good for a period of six months from the date of the hearing. These restraining orders can be renewed after the six month period, but you will need to request another hearing from the court in order for this renewal to be granted. If an immediate restraining order is required it can be issued and remain valid until the time of the “show cause” hearing.
A violation of either a restraining order or a temporary restraining order is a criminal offense, and if such an order is violated, you can contact the Magistrates’ Court and request that the Magistrate issue an arrest warrant against the offender.
Need more help? Contact us at 864-585-5100.
Ryan McCarty, Attorney