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Stalking offense bill passes House, moves on to Senate

OLYMPIA, Wash., March 15, 2023Representative Lauren Davis-sponsored bill HB 1696, concerning stalking-related offenses, unanimously passed the House, on February 27, with 97 yeas, zero nays, and three absentees. The bill now moves to the Senate for further consideration.

The decision came just two-weeks before a married couple were murdered in Redmond, March 10, after a home invasion that occurred early in the morning by a stalker. The suspect, Ramin Khodakaramrezaei, 38, shot and killed the couple before dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The female victim, whom Khodakaramrezaei’s had allegedly stalked for months, met her murderer through the social voice app Clubhouse—created for Farsi speakers seeking employment in the tech industry, according to police.

The woman sought help from law enforcement in December and January, reporting more than 100 contacts with Khodakaramzeaei in a single day. Her stalker also sent gifts and showed up at her home uninvited prior to the home invasion that claimed three lives.

The Redmond prosecutor obtained a protection order, in early March, against Khodakaramzeaei yet he was never served because his whereabouts were unknown at the time.

House Bill 1696 is geared toward protecting individuals of situations like this, by modifying the scope of conduct that constitutes the crime of stalking and certain conditions and exceptions related to stalking, a bill analysis states, while repealing the provision related to the crime of cyberstalking.

According to Representative Lauren Davis (D-Lynnwood), who sponsored the bill, stalking victims often don’t know that they’re victims of crime. Stalking is a “reading between the lines crime,” she told the Lynnwood Times in an interview last week, adding that “stalking is the most lethal behavior that is most highly correlated to intimate partner homicide.”

In fact, 89% of femicide victims who had been physically assaulted before their murder were also stalked in the last year prior to their murder, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, with most cases involving someone the victim knows.

Washington state saw 24 convictions of stalking-related incidents in 2022. What drives stalking, Davis said, is an obsession and fixation on the victim—the same fixation that drives individuals to homicide.

“The psychological literature says that the mental health effects of stalking is long-term on the victim. Psychologists call stalking ‘intimate terrorism,’ and that it is a sadistic behavior. Stalking is not seen as menacing behavior by those who “lack the context,” said Davis.

HB-1696 also revises stalking to include people who knowingly install an electronic device without a person’s consent, repealing the existing the cyberstalking law (9A.90.130) in an act Davis referred to as “statutory cleanup.”

The three elements of current stalking laws are: intentional and repeated harassment of a person or following; the victim placed in fear of the stalker’s intent to injure them and that the fear is reasonable; stalker intended to frighten, intimidate or harass or the stalker should have reasonably known that their target was experiencing fright, intimidation or harassment.

Davis’ bill makes changes to two of the three elements to make it easier to prove stalking, she told the Lynnwood Times.

Federal and most other states’ stalking laws include for the second element a reasonable fear of physical injury or substantial or emotional distress. Rep Davis added that Washington laws were “so narrow that it’s difficult to prove subjectively that a particular victim had a reasonable fear that a stalker had the intent to injure them.” Aligning Washington state law with federal and other states’ laws makes it consistent, she said.

Fewer than one third of states in the United States classify stalking as a felony in all circumstances, including on the first offense, according to The Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center, while more than half of states classify stalking as a felony upon the second or subsequent offense.

In the past, legislators have added language to stalking statutes that if a stalker continued to contact or follow a victim, even after they were given notice to stop, then it constitutes as element three of the law. However, jury instructions given by the state say that such proof is “permissive inference,” meaning that the jury can disregard it. With HB1696, that can now be used decisively to prove element three of stalking – dealing with intending to frighten or intimidate.

Rep. Davis met with domestic violence prosecutors to ensure that the language in the bill is accurate and will achieve the intent; to make stalking more easily prosecutable. 

Other ways of achieving this, Davis added, is more intensive training for domestic violence and law enforcement agencies about stalking, and potential ankle monitors in domestic violence cases that could ping victims if a perpetrator is near.

Rep. Davis encourages victims of stalking to seek support and resources from a domestic violence agency. Not all stalking is intimate partner stalking, but most of it is, she said, which are often much more dangerous and lethal than stranger stalking. For non-intimate partner stalking, contacting law enforcement is also an option.

The general public is typically uninformed on what stalking actually is, according to Davis who proposed a public education campaign in order to inform the public, recommending victims provide resources to their employers, family, and friends in order to avoid perpetuating insensitivity.

Those who believe they are victims of stalking can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or contact the Snohomish County Protection Order Office at 425-388-3638 to obtain a Protection Order.

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