Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Case: USA: Stalking by a third party

Stalkers can be devious people, as we know. A recent US case is a good illustration of how stalkers can get caught.

Andre Becklin and Mary McGee had a tumultuous relationship that began in 1992. Almost immediately after the relationship became romantic in 1996, Becklin threatened to kill McGee if she ever became involved with someone else. When McGee became pregnant in 1997, Becklin insisted that she have an abortion. When she refused, he punched her in the stomach and then attempted to rape her. She escaped and moved in with friends, but soon returned and gave birth to their son, Ace, in October 1997.

For the next few years, McGee alternatively lived with Becklin, stayed with friends, or lived in her own apartment. When she moved into an apartment for the final time, Becklin began to show up there every day trying to gain entrance. Even after McGee became involved with Aaron Ash, whom she eventually married, Becklin and McGee fought on numerous occasions because Becklin wanted McGee to return to a relationship with him.

Any civility in the relationship between Becklin and McGee evaporated when McGee announced her intention to marry Ash. In November 2003, McGee and Becklin fought about this issue, and Becklin took Ace without McGee's consent. When friends returned Ace to McGee, Becklin tried to force his way into McGee's house. As a result, McGee obtained a protection order in December 2003, preventing Becklin from having any contact with her and preventing him from coming within 100 feet of her or her home. The order also explicitly prohibited contact through third parties.

In addition to breaching the order in February 2004 (for which he was convicted), McGee testified that in March 2004 Becklin's friends repeatedly drove Becklin's cars by her house, circling her block several times. Two witnesses testified that they filled out written reports for Becklin recounting their sightings of McGee around town. McGee also testified that on March 26, 2004, Glen Jarmin, a close friend of Becklin's, followed McGee from a court hearing to her home, circled her block several times, and then followed her on an errand. McGee was afraid of Jarmin because he had helped Becklin try to break into her home in the past. Finally, McGee testified that Becklin himself also followed her home from the court appearance and was seen driving near her home.

The question for the court in Washington State was whether Becklin could have stalked McGee through third parties, whilst he remained "innocently" on the sidelines.

Unfortunately this behavious is not unknown here. As a domestic violence lawyer, I have had a number of cases over the years when abusive ex-boyfriends of Becklin's ilk have done pretty much the same thing.

In Australia, the issue should be cut and dried. In Queensland, to "counsel and procure" someone to commit an offence means that you also commit the offence. If you convince your mate to stalk your ex-girlfriend, then you also commit the offence of stalking.

Similarly, under the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act, a perpetrator of violence need not personally commit the act of domestic violence or threaten to commit it. In other words, if you are subject to a protection order and you persuade a mate to harass your ex, even if you have done nothing, then you also commit the offence of breaching the protection order.


In Washington State, the words used were not "counsel and procure" but the similar "solicitation" and "convincing".

When Becklin's court case went to trial, the judge directed the jury that they could convict even though he had not actually stalked, because he had directed his friends to do so.

Becklin appealed, and the first appeal court overturned the conviction.

The prosecution appealed, and were successful, the court upholding the conviction and holding that "stalking encompasses the act of directing others to harass a victim." The court also said: "Here the act of convincing his friends to harass McGee was the course of conduct that resulted in the impact on the victim, i.e., presumably "solicitation" and "convincing" are part of each scenario which leads to harassment."

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