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Court rejects First Amendment attack on anti-stalking law

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WASHINGTON--The state's stalking law does not intrude upon constitutionally protected behavior such as news gathering, the Washington Supreme Court ruled…

WASHINGTON–The state’s stalking law does not intrude upon constitutionally protected behavior such as news gathering, the Washington Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in late June in upholding stalking convictions against two men.

The men had argued that the stalking statute is vague and overbroad because it sweeps “within its prohibitions constitutionally protected free speech and the right to travel.” The statute, they said, potentially infringes upon a wide range of First Amendment activities such as political protesting or news gathering.

The state asserted that the stalking statute does not limit “ordinary movement” such as walking, strolling or wandering, and it is not overbroad because it only regulates “oppressive behavior which invades the privacy of another and is not merely an expression of ideas.”

The high court upheld the convictions and the statute, stating that the stalking statute is not unconstitutional because “it does not intrude upon constitutionally protected behavior.”

“The statute is a reasonable exercise of the police powers in protecting privacy interests of a segment of society from invasive oppressive behavior and harmful conduct,” Judge Charles Smith wrote for the court. “One person’s freedom of movement gives way to another person’s freedom not be disturbed.”

At the time the men were convicted, the state’s stalking law defined stalking as intentionally and repeatedly following another person to that person’s home, school, place of employment, business or any other location. In order to constitute stalking, the person being followed must be “intimidated, harassed or placed in fear that the stalker intends to injure” the person, and such fear must be “reasonable.”

The two dissenting judges argued that the right to privacy only protects citizens from the invasive actions of government, not from other citizens.

“The majority’s analysis leads to an unprecedented result whereby private citizens could sue other private citizens for constitutional violations,” Judge Barbara Madsen said. (Washington v. Lee, Washington v. Yates; Petitioner’s Counsel: Neil Fox, Seattle)