New law toughens stalking penalties

Measure up crime from misdemeanor to felony


August 7, 2008, Dover — If a person’s caught and convicted to stalking, they could be facing up to a year in prison under a major revision to the state’s 1993 stalking and harassment law.

At a signing ceremony for a trio of bills aimed at combating domestic violence, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner said she thinks the package will make Delawareans safer.

“This will protect our residents from harassment and intimidation,” Minner said. “There’s no excuse now for anyone to say: ‘You can’t be prosecuted.’ They can prosecute anyone for these offenses now.”

The three-bill package was sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, and Rep. Deborah Hudson, R-Fairthorne. Blevins said the package couldn’t have made it through the General Assembly without strong backing from anti-domestic violence groups, including the council that advises the governor on domestic violence issues, and help from the Attorney General’s office.

“This really was a team effort by all the people sitting around this table today,” said Blevins, chairwoman of the state’s Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, which advises the governor and policymakers on anti-domestic violence strategies. “I think the package of bills the governor signed today makes the state a safer place.”

The bills:

–Add sexual assault and sexual abuse to crimes covered by the state’s victims compensation laws.

–Add a $15 fee to certified copies of marriage licenses with the money going to help pay for programs that help and advocate for victims of domestic violence to help offset loss of federal dollars provided by the Violence Against Women Act.

–Overhaul the state’s 1993 stalking and harassment laws to make it easier for people to bring harassment charges. The changes also update the law to cover electronic harassment on Internet sites. That law takes effect in mid-October.

But the change is one that Deputy Attorney General Patricia Daliey Lewis, chief of the AG’s Family Division, said should help curb harassment cases.

“People aren’t going to have to have as many incidents of harassment and stalking as they used to have before they can get real action,” she said. “We think that will make people safer.”