Maybe this is a way to send an indirect message to the paparazzi.
Los Angeles, CA (Vocus) December 11, 2009
Federal stalking charges are rare in Los Angeles. In most cases, a celebrity stalking case like the one involving Erin Andrews would be prosecuted under California state law rather than federal law. But Michael David Barrett is being charged under the federal stalking laws for allegedly videotaping Andrews through various hotel door peepholes across the country, posting the videos online and attempting to sell the videos to gossip Web site TMZ. Why would prosecutors choose federal court? According to Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Stephen G. Rodriguez, “Maybe this is a way to send an indirect message to the paparazzi.” Celebrities have historically had problems with paparazzi coming up with novel ways to photograph their private lives. Barrett’s case is a reminder that the penalties for taking unauthorized photographs of celebrities can be severe.
Federal anti-stalking laws (“Interstate Stalking”) were adopted in 1996 as part of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The VAWA makes it a federal crime to stalk or harass an individual from one state to another if the stalking and harassment causes fear of serious injury or death to the victim or the victim’s immediate family. Federal stalking charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
Barrett has been released on bail and will be on house arrest through the case’s conclusion. According to attorney Rodriguez, Barrett’s defense could be difficult for a number of reasons, including: 1) The IP addresses of the computers from which the Erin Andrews videos were posted can be connected to Barrett; 2) The email that Barrett sent to TMZ trying to sell the videos was traced back to him; and 3) Hotel records in various states corroborate the prosecution’s allegations that Barrett altered Andrews’ hotel door peepholes to shoot videos of her. However, Barrett may be able avoid a conviction if his defense attorney can show that the elements of interstate stalking were not met, for example, that he wasn’t trying to (did not have the intent to) scare or threaten Andrews, but was just acting out a prurient interest or a sexual fantasy.
Although stalking behavior has probably been around forever, it is a fairly new crime. In 1980, the world became aware of stalking behavior when Mark David Chapman murdered John Lennon. Lennon’s murder was followed by John Hinckley Jr.’s 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan – he thought he could get actress Jodie Foster’s attention by killing the president. It was not until 1990, however, in response to the murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer – killed by a stalker – that California enacted the first U.S. anti-stalking law. Since then, every state in the U.S. has enacted anti-stalking laws. While the most well-known stalking incidents involve celebrities, the majority of victims are ordinary citizens.
If you are the victim of a stalker, contact your local law enforcement agency and file a police report. It is likely that criminal charges would be filed if there is enough evidence. Alternatively, you may wish to file a restraining order against your stalker to prevent further stalking.
In California, especially in Los Angeles, law enforcement and the district and city attorneys’ offices take stalking charges very seriously due to their possible outcomes. Individuals suspected of stalking are also exposed to other related crimes such as assault , battery, domestic violence, terrorist threats, trespass, rape and murder.
The criminal defense attorneys at Stephen G. Rodriguez & Associates aggressively represent defendants charged with stalking. If you are being investigated, or charged with stalking contact our offices immediately to discuss your legal options. Do not speak to a detective or someone from law enforcement until you have spoken to an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Law Offices of Stephen G. Rodriguez
633 West 5th Street, 26th Floor
Los Angeles, California 90071