A Breakdown of California Penal Code Section 646.9 – Stalking

Free & Confidential Consultations

Stalking laws in California are serious.

The California Penal Code section 646.9 makes it illegal to follow, harass, or threaten another person causing them to fear for their safety. 

The definition of stalking in California is as follows: “Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or willfully and maliciously harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her immediate family is guilty of the crime of stalking.” (California Penal Code section 646.9.)

Often stalking is not what you might imagine from television. 

Instead of a total stranger stalking another person, stalking often occurs between individuals who know each other.

For example, stalking can take the form of an obsessed admirer or a harassing neighbor.

Stalking allegations also often arise during a bitter breakup or divorce. If this is the case, the charge may be enhanced under the California Domestic Violence Statute.

If convicted, you could face additional penalties.

Elements of PC 646.9 Stalking 

Just like any other crime, there are essential elements the prosecutor must prove in order to convict the accused.

Under PC 646.9, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly followed or harassed the victim; and
  2. The defendant made a credible threat to the victim; and 
  3. The defendant intended to place the victim in reasonable fear for their safety;
  4. The defendant intended to place the victim in reasonable fear for the safety of their immediate family. 

Often, stalking charges are brought with nothing more than the alleged victim’s statement. 

Therefore, careful investigation and strong cross-examination are the tools needed to combat such a charge.  

Defenses to Stalking

There are several defenses you can assert to defeat a stalking charge.

These include arguing or showing that:

  • The threat is not credible,
  • The accusation is untrue or made up,
  • There was no intent to cause fear, and
  • You were engaged in a constitutionally-protected activity such as a legal protest.

Which defense—or defenses—may be available to you will depend on the particular circumstances surrounding your case.

Upon meeting with an attorney, you will have a better understanding of the charges against you and potential defense strategies.

What Are the Penalties for Stalking Under PC 646.9?

The stalking laws in California are serious. The penalties for even the lowest degree can include jail time.

Whether you were charged with a misdemeanor or a felony will determine the sentencing you may face.

Misdemeanor vs. Felony

In California, stalking can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. 

A misdemeanor stalking conviction is punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

These penalties increase if you violate section 646.9 while a temporary restraining order is in place.  

If there is a protective order—whether temporary or permanent—in place at the time the stalking occurs, you will be charged with a felony.

In that case, you can be sentenced to a term of two, three, or four years in prison. A defendant can also face a fine of up to $1,000.

If a defendant has a prior conviction for stalking or another domestic-violence-related crime, they may face up to five years in prison, a $1,000 fine, or both. 

Whether you have been charged with misdemeanor or felony stalking, you should not take these charges lightly.

Even a misdemeanor conviction could tarnish your reputation indefinitely.

The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, will fight to protect your rights and reputation every step of the way. 


In today’s technology-driven world, stalking can go beyond physical harassment or threats.

California’s cyberstalking law makes it a crime to stalk someone using an electronic communication device.

Cyberstalking devices include:

  • Phone,
  • Text messaging,
  • Fax,
  • Email, and 
  • Social media.

Examples of cyberstalking are:

  • Unwanted repeated text messages;
  • Unwanted “sext” messages with explicit words, photos, or videos;
  • Unsolicited emails; and
  • Disclosing someone’s personal or embarrassing information online.

A cyberstalking charge can be just as serious as traditional stalking. The elements of the crime are the same with the added element of “by means of an electronic device.”

As in traditional stalking, cyberstalking can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, and it carries the same penalties.

If the alleged victim is your spouse or domestic partner, there may be an enhanced charge under the domestic violence statute. 

Contact a San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer

Reach out now for personalized legal support and defense strategies. Act now – Your future matters.

If You Have Been Charged With Violating Stalking Laws in California, Call Us Today

At The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, we promise to handle your case with compassion and experience.

Our attorneys have been to a jury trial over 100 times, fighting for favorable outcomes for our clients.

We will do whatever it takes to protect your rights and fight for your future.

Contact us today for a free consultation.

Where You Can Find Our San Diego Office

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

Rate this Post

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars