New law means tough penalties for stalkers

by Chris Vetter

Gov. Arne Carlson signed a tough, new anti-crime measure on Tuesday that lowers the burden of proof for prosecutors when seeking convictions for stalkers.
Under the new law, which amends the original 1993 anti-stalking law, prosecutors will only have to prove that a person has committed repeated acts of stalking. The old law had prosecutors prove that a person had harmful intentions when stalking.
The law also makes repeated, unwanted e-mails a form of stalking and should ease the burden of proof on prosecutors and victims.
Mary Jo McGuire, DFL-Falcon Heights, who represents the University’s St. Paul campus and sponsored the bill, said she was happy to get the governor’s signature.
“I’m glad we were able to work it out,” McGuire said. “It is a very good bill. It will help prosecutors. It strengthens and clarifies the current stalking laws.”
Terri Wenkman, a student staff member in the University’s Program Against Sexual Violence, said the changes improve the current law and protect victims better from repeated harassment.
“I think it’s an improvement for women any time you say ‘you don’t have to prove something,'” Wenkman said. “It is very empowering.”
Wenkman said the sexual violence program usually does not deal with stalking, but said the law will help women who come to the program’s office by making it easier to convict offenders.
The Minnesota Supreme Court misinterpreted the 1993 anti-stalking law by presuming the state had to prove harmful intent by the perpetrator, McGuire said. “This (law) clarifies what the legislative intent is.”
The new law also requires that a stalker “knows or has reason to know” that their repeated actions would cause a person to feel uncomfortable or threatened. Those convicted of stalking will be required to undergo counseling to help control their conduct.
The conference committee also added tough penalties for stalkers that use weapons and for repeat offenders. A third violation when using a weapon was upgraded from a gross misdemeanor to a felony.
The bill passed through both houses with wide majorities last week and was considered one of the few noncontroversial but important bills to come up this session. The law takes effect Aug. 1.