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Telephone and electronic messages left with an alleged victim may flesh out a case of stalking in the third degree, a Manhattan Criminal Court judge has ruled in a case of first impression. Under an anti-stalking law that became effective in December, a person who, over a period of 28 weeks, allegedly left 230 telephone messages containing abusive or threatening language, could be charged with the crime of third-degree stalking, said Judge Raymond Guzman. On the related issue of physical proximity, the defendant was charged with following the victim to the subway several times, but those incidents, standing alone, may not have placed the victim in fear of injury. Guzman said, however, that the repeated messages could have placed the victim in fear of her life, and that the defendant’s alleged actions — taken together — amounted to a “course of action … which is likely to cause [the victim] to reasonably fear physical injury or more severe consequences.” In People v. Starkes, 2000NY028771, the defendant, Raymond Starkes, also allegedly called the complainant at her workplace 160 times during the same time period, and also left 14 e-mail messages at her workplace. According to prosecutors, the e-mail and telephone messages left by Starkes referred to the alleged victim in degrading terms and included statements such as “You are a son of a bitch and you will die in hell. You’re going to die very soon.” “[T]he information alleges that the defendant committed literally hundreds of acts directed at the complainant,” wrote Guzman, not just the 15 instances in which he allegedly followed the woman to the subway. The court said that the stalking charge could be supported by activities that did not include the defendant’s physical presence near the victim or her home. The phone calls and the incidents of following the victim added up to a “course of conduct” likely to place the victim in fear for her personal safety, said Guzman. The legislature, in enacting the third-degree stalking statute, included language indicating that it was concerned not only with following a victim, but with confrontation by telephone or in writing, the judge observed. “[A]s time went on, the defendant’s alleged actions toward the complainant were increasing in number while the content of his communication was becoming more graphic,” including sado-masochistic imagery, Guzman said. “[T]he court finds that defendant’s alleged conduct would ‘likely cause’ the complainant ‘reasonable’ fear of further escalation and physically harmful manifestation.” The crime of third-degree stalking is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in city or county jail. The defendant was also charged with second-degree aggravated harassment, also a Class A misdemeanor, for initiating communication by telephone “in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.” Defense counsel to Starkes was Irene T. Soffer of Manhattan. Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Kase handled the prosecution for the New York County District Attorney’s Office.

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