How to Parse & Dissect the Georgia Stalking Statute

I recently helped a person parse the Georgia Stalking Statute. (I have some extra familiarity and knowledge with this statute because of my own victory in the Chan v. Ellis Appeal).

(a)(1) A person commits the offense of stalking when

* he or she follows,
* places under surveillance,
* OR contacts another person at or about a place or places

* WITHOUT the consent of the other person

* for the purpose of harassing and intimidating the other person.

If you contacted the other person without consent but did not intend to "harass or intimidate", it is not grounds for stalking.

Below are definitions which the Georgia Supreme Court says, "A statute draws its meaning, of course, from its text. When we read the statutory text, "we must presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said what it meant," and so, "we must read the statutory text in its most natural and reasonable way, as an ordinary speaker of the English language would." The common and customary usages of the words are important, but so is their context.

For the purpose of this article, the terms "computer" and "computer network" shall have the same meanings as set out in Code Section 16-9-92; the term "contact" shall mean any communication including without being limited to communication in person, by telephone, by mail, by broadcast, by computer, by computer network, or by any other electronic device;

and the place or places that contact by telephone, mail, broadcast, computer, computer network, or any other electronic device is deemed to occur shall be the place or places where such communication is received.

The Georgia Supreme Court has concluded that open letters are NOT "contact". Directed communication to a person's personal email account or to a person's social media account would be considered "contact", not a general broadcast, forum post, or social media post the general public can read.

For the purpose of this article, the term "place or places" shall include any public or private property occupied by the victim other than the residence of the defendant.

For the purposes of this article, the term "harassing and intimidating" means:

* a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes emotional distress

Unwanted communication in itself which does NOT cause emotional distress is not stalking.

* by placing such person in reasonable fear for such person's safety or the safety of a member of his or her immediate family,

It has to cause "reasonable fear of personal safety". Simply be fearful is not enough such as in the case of embarrassing information, gossip, reputation-damaging speech. It has to be REASONABLE fear of physical personal safety. Some people who are overly paranoid or drama prone should be be able to claim REASONABLE fear.

* by establishing a pattern of harassing and intimidating behavior, and

Sending one "dangerous" or "threatening" emails is not a "pattern" of any type of behavior. I would say that even twice is not a meaningful "pattern". However, from three communications and higher MIGHT be considered a pattern. However, each of the three (and higher) communicates must each be considered "harassing and intimidating".

* which serves no legitimate purpose.

Business disputes, arguments, and disagreements would not be considered "no legitimate purpose". Fighting for a child's welfare, custody, income disputes, etc. would be considered a "legitimate" purpose but you have to articulate that clearly for a judge to understand.

* This Code section shall not be construed to require that an overt threat of death or bodily injury has been made.

Threats don't have to be explicit for the stalking statute to apply.
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