Gov. Pete Wilson has signed legislation broadening the definition of stalking and stiffening the criminal and civil penalties for people convicted of the crime, the governor’s office said Wednesday.
“Californians have a right to live without the fear that they or their families could face unrelenting threats from stalkers,” Wilson said in a prepared statement.
One of the bills signed by Wilson expands the definition of stalking to cover victims who are in reasonable fear of their safety or the safety of their family. Until now, people were considered victims of stalking only if they had a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury.
The same bill, by Assemblyman Bob Epple (D-Cerritos), will make punishment for a first conviction of stalking either a felony or a misdemeanor. Current law had provided that a first offense could be charged only as a misdemeanor.
That measure also provides that stalking in violation of a temporary restraining order is a felony punishable by up to four years in prison, rather than either a felony or misdemeanor.
Another bill Wilson signed makes it a misdemeanor for an identified batterer to enter the property of a battered women’s shelter without consent. In such a case, a court may also order the defendant to pay the cost of relocating the battered woman and her children.
The legislation, authored by Assemblywoman Jackie Speier (D-Burlingame), increases the penalty for a person already convicted of stalking who contacts the victim in violation of a court order.
That bill also eliminates the $182 filing fee now charged for obtaining a protective order from the courts.
Speier said that provision in her bill was inspired by the case of Kim Springer, a Dana Point postal worker who was being stalked by a former co-worker Mark Richard Hilbun but lacked the funds to pay the filing fee. Hilbun allegedly killed another postal worker and wounded three others while looking for Springer, then stabbed his mother to death.
Wilson also signed legislation by Assemblywoman Dede Alpert (D-Coronado) that makes stalking a tort in civil court as well as a crime. A person convicted in criminal court of stalking could be found liable under this law and made to pay damages to the victim, including punitive damages.
Stalking was first made a crime in 1990 after a series of women, including several movie stars, were followed and threatened or attacked. The most notable was the murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer on her doorstep in 1989, but the murders of four Orange County women in a short period prompted then-state Sen. Edward Royce (R-Anaheim) to author the law.
Speier said she believes that sensational news coverage, particularly in the electronic media, has made stalking a more popular crime.
“Stalking has become one of the in crimes,” she said. “These three bills combined are a positive step in shaping the stalking law in California to provide very necessary expanded criminal penalties and protections to individuals who are being stalked.”