Friday, January 20, 2006

Case Law Development: Colorado Supreme Court Addresses Mens Rea Requirement in Stalking Cases

The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed with the court of appeals' interpretation of the mens rea requirement for the state harassment by stalking statute. The court of appeals had overturned the defendant's conviction in part because the trial court had not instructed the jury that a defendant must be aware that his or her conduct is practically certain to cause a reasonable person to suffer serious emotional distress.  However, the Supreme Court concluded that the "knowingly" language in the statute does require that a defendant know his conduct could or did cause emotional distress but only must "knowingly" engage in the actions constituting harassment under the statute (following, contacting, etc.) The Supreme Court concluded that "the legislature recognized that the stalker in pursuing the victim may be oblivious to objective reality; he or she may not be aware that the repeated acts engaged in would cause a reasonable person to suffer severe emotional distress" and so limited the mens rea to the actions of the harassement only, with the requirement of proof of actual emotional distress being an independent element of the crime. The Supreme Court rejected defendant's claim that the statute is unconstitutionally vague or overbroad.  The court concluded that "a reasonable person can understand what conduct is proscribed and the statute does not criminalize harmless acts or those protected by the First Amendment."

People v. Cross, 2006 Colo. LEXIS 30 (January 17, 2006)
Opinion available on the web (last visited January 19, 2006 bgf)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/family_law/2006/01/case_law_develo_21.html

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