Felony Stalking Conviction Reversed after Thurston County Prosecutor Failed to Prove Repeated Followings

State v. Johnson (2015)

by David S. Marshall

The Court of Appeals of Washington has reversed a felony stalking conviction after the State failed to prove the defendant followed or harassed the victim repeatedly. The court reiterated that “repeatedly” means at least two separate and distinct events.

In State v. Johnson, a Lacey man was charged with felony stalking for an incident involving his ex-girlfriend. After the ex-girlfriend called off their relationship, Johnson sent her multiple text messages, called her repeatedly, and showed up at her apartment unannounced. After one such incident where he came to the ex-girlfriend’s apartment, Lacey police arrested Johnson.

At his preliminary appearance, a Thurston County judge entered a no-contact order preventing Johnson from contacting the ex-girlfriend. Johnson posted bond and was released shortly thereafter. A few weeks later, however, Johnson was arrested again after he followed his ex-girlfriend in his car. He was convicted of felony stalking among other charges.

Johnson appealed, arguing that the State did not prove all the elements of felony stalking. He argued that the State failed to present evidence that he harassed or followed his ex-girlfriend in violation of a protection order on two or more separate occasions.

In Washington, a person commits the crime of stalking if he “intentionally and repeatedly harasses or follows a person, and the person being harassed or followed is placed in reasonable fear of injury.” The statute defines “repeatedly” as two or more separate occasions, and case law has emphasized there must be at least two distinct and non-continuous events.

The Court of Appeals of Washington reversed the felony stalking conviction, finding that the Thurston County prosecutor only presented evidence of one incident of stalking—i.e., following the ex-girlfriend in his car—after the no-contact order was issued. As this one incident did not meet the definition of “repeatedly,” the State failed to meet its burden of proof, requiring reversal of the conviction.