As a result of the Schaeffer stalking and murder, the vicious physical attack on actress Theresa Saldana by drifter Arthur Jackson, and the murders of four young women in Orange County, each of whom had a restraining order against their ex-husband or boyfriend, the California Legislature passed the first stalking law in the country in 1990.
The seriousness of the crime of stalking is seen in the facts surrounding the Rebecca Schaeffer murder case. In 1986, while living in Tucson, Arizona, Bardo saw Schaeffer on the television series, “My Sister Sam.” He began writing fan letters to her, and received a card and autographed picture of her, which validated his delusion of their “mutual attraction.” In 1988, he started making trips from Arizona to Los Angeles in the hope of contacting her. On each trip he brought candy and stuffed animals and on each trip he was turned away by the studio security. He then saw her in her first movie and grew infuriated when he saw her in bed with a male character.
Feeling betrayed, he told his sister that he had to save her and the only way of saving her was to kill her. He had read a magazine how Arthur Jackson located Theresa Saldana’s address through the DMV and hired a private investigator to locate Schaeffer’s address in the same manner. Bardo returned to Los Angeles, only this time, instead of carrying flowers and stuffed animals; he carried a gun with hollow point bullets. Bardo went to Schaeffer’s house and shot her once through the chest. She died at the age of 21. Bardo was arrested and convicted of this murder and is now serving a life without possibility of parole sentence. Subsequent to this case, the California Legislature enacted Vehicle Code Section 1808.21, which provided that stalking and threat victims may request confidentiality in their DMV records.
The California Stalking Law Penal Code Section 646.9 has greatly evolved over the past fourteen years and has become more effective in defining and addressing this increasingly common crime. California now has one of the strongest stalking laws in the country. No Longer should victims of stalking be turned away by law enforcement and told, “come back when he actually hurts you.” From 1991 through 1993, stalking was a misdemeanor punishable by only one year in county jail when no restraining order was in place. Under the current law, a first-time stalker can be sentenced to a felony charge and sentenced to State Prison for up to three years. If a court or restraining order is in effect, the stalker can be sentenced up to four years in prison or if he has previously been convicted of felony stalking or other related crimes, he could face up to five years in prison.
Stalking is a crime of conduct, not necessarily words. For example, a stalker may send a love note saying “I love you” but he also encloses a bullet in the envelope. The “credible threat” made by the stalker need not be a direct threat but may be implied by his conduct. The victim need not be physically present when the threat is made as long as he or she learns about it shortly thereafter, either directly or through a third person. The test for a credible threat is whether a “reasonable” person would fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her immediate family and that the victim was actually in fear because of the stalker’s words and/or conduct.
Stalking is a chronic behavior that can continue for many months or years. Incarceration or the existence of a restraining order may not diminish the stalker’s obsession. Many stalkers continue to write or phone their victims from jail or prison. It is for this reason that Penal Code Section 646.9 contains the language that, “incarceration is not a defense.” Prosecutors can bring new charges of stalking against a defendant who is in custody but continues his obsessive behavior against a victim.
It is a mistake to characterize all stalkers as mere transients or losers, or to think that only a celebrity can be a stalking victim. Anyone can be a stalker, and anyone can be a stalking victim. In a study conducted in 1998 by the U.S. Department of Justice, it was determined that one out of every twelve women and one out of every forty-five men in the United States has been stalked at some time in their lives. The majority of stalking cases appear in the context of domestic violence and these are the cases that most often result in serious bodily injury or death. The same study indicated that of those women who were stalked by a current or former husband or dating partner, 81% were also physically assaulted by the same partner. However, most stalkers do share an uncanny intelligence and unusual determination that enables them to successfully track their prey. They are not your typical criminals.
Given the seriousness of this crime, it is important for law enforcement, prosecutors and those in the private sector to have as many tools available to help analyze and stop this crime before it develops into a murder, rape, assault, or workplace violence type of situation. This website has been developed specifically for that purpose. Not only does it contain all California law relating to the crime of stalking and criminal threats, but it has brief descriptions of all California cases that have defined these statutes. Additionally, it contains links and resources such as the addresses and phone numbers of all District Attorney Offices, parole and probation offices, prisons, law enforcement agencies, victim advocate agencies and domestic violence shelters, etc. You can access restraining and protective orders used in this state, including Civil Harassment, Workplace Violence, and Domestic Violence forms and the instructions at http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/forms/ where you can fill out relevant information onto the form and then print it out on your computer. If you wish to see your state’s stalking and harassment law please go to http://www.ncvc.org/src/main.aspx?dblD=DB_state-bystate_statutes117.
We hope that this website will be helpful to you in handling your stalking and threat cases. Stalking and threat cases may take much more time and effort on the part of law enforcement and other threat and security professionals. However, it is time well spent saving lives.