Accusations of harassment can turn your world upside down. When your character comes under attack, navigating the next steps is an emotional and legal minefield. That is why it’s crucial to understand the charges being leveled against you and seek expert legal counsel before making any potentially damaging decisions.
Learn how harassment is defined by law and how to defend yourself against false harassment charges below.
First and foremost, understand how Washington State defines harassment. The body of law, known as the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), offers guidance on harassment.
According to RCW 9A.46.020, an individual engages in harassment if, without lawful authority, the individual threatens:
- To cause bodily injury immediately or in the future to the person threatened or to any other person
- To cause physical damage to the property of a person
- To subject the person threatened or any other person to physical confinement or restraint
- Maliciously to do any other act which is intended to substantially harm the person threatened or another with respect to his or her physical or mental health or safety
In addition to the presence of one or more of the behaviors above, another element must be present to qualify as harassment. The RCW goes on to specify that, for harassment to take place, “the person by words or conduct places the person threatened in reasonable fear that the threat will be carried out.”
What to Do When You Are Falsely Accused of Harassment
You have the right to fight back against false harassment claims. However, there is a right and wrong way to go about it. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to defend yourself against false harassment charges wisely and effectively.
1. Understand the Penalties Associated with Harassment
Allegations of harassment are serious and can result in significant punishments for those convicted of the crime. In light of this, take the accuser’s claims seriously. Don’t assume that because the claims are false, others will see through the accuser and take your side.
Harassment can be either a gross misdemeanor or a class C Felony.
The punishment for a gross misdemeanor includes jail time, a fine or a combination of the two. RCW 9A.20.020 declares that individuals convicted of a gross misdemeanor face up to one year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines.
The punishment for a class C felony conviction is a maximum of 5 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. That said, sentencing on felony cases in Washington State is determined by the sentencing guidelines. For instance, if you have no prior criminal history points and no “other current offense” points, you would be looking at a sentencing range of 1-3 months in jail for a felony harassment charge.
There are a few different reasons why a harassment charge can be filed as a felony as opposed to a misdemeanor, but the primary reason we see is due to an alleged threat to kill someone. A threat such as this will always be filed as a felony.
In addition to the steep legal repercussions, you may also face personal and professional consequences. Accusations of harassment, even without conviction in a court of law, puts pressure on employers to act. With so much at stake, the next steps are pivotal.
2. Contact an Attorney
Now that it’s clear just how destructive a harassment conviction can be, it’s time to form a defense plan.
A skilled criminal defense attorney will examine your situation and advise you on the best course of action. If the harassment accusation came from someone in your workplace, the company would likely perform an internal investigation. In this situation, it is invaluable to have a lawyer guide you in what to do and what to avoid.
If the accusation of harassment came from someone outside of the workplace, the accuser’s legal representation might contact you. When this occurs, your lawyer will counsel you on how to proceed.
Having a knowledgeable attorney on your side is like having a trail guide on a dangerous mountain. Your attorney walks ahead of you and prevents you from making disastrous missteps. They also offer support during a challenging time. Your lawyer can:
- Investigate the claims brought forth and discover weaknesses in the accuser’s case
- Guide you through the legal process and ensure your rights are protected
- Advise you on what steps to take moving forward to protect yourself from further difficulty
- Utilize their knowledge of complex laws and regulations to compose a strong defense to clear your name
Hiring an attorney is not just smart; it’s necessary.
3. Create a Detailed Account of Events and Character Witnesses
When it comes to an allegation of harassment in a criminal case, the burden of proving your guilt falls on the prosecution, which is good news for anyone accused. That said, it can sometimes feel like you are the one who has to prove your innocence. This is why it can be very helpful to build up a strong defense in the form of a strong offense. Your lawyer will work to discredit the accuser’s case, and you can contribute to this effort.
To aid your attorney as they build up your defense, gather evidence that can be used to your advantage, including:
- Records of your location (receipts, photos,etc.) on the specific days and times the accuser claims you harassed them
- Witnesses that were present when the alleged harassment happened and those that can attest to your character
- A written timeline of events detailing what took place, who said what, where things occurred, etc.
On the documents, write “attorney-client privileged communication” to signal the confidential nature of the information.
4. Stay Away from the Accuser
When determining how to defend yourself against false harassment charges, the idea of reasoning with the accuser may come to mind. But doing this can open the door to more issues.
If the judge issues a no-contact order, you are legally required to stay away from the accuser. But even without one, keeping your distance is a wise decision. Due to the situation’s emotionally-charged nature, a conversation can go awry, leading you to say or do something that will reflect negatively on your case.
Another risk of interacting with the alleged victim is the possibility of further accusations. Your words or actions may be misinterpreted, causing the individual to claim that you were threatening or intimidating them. This could then add a layer of credibility to the accuser’s false harassment claims.
In short, refrain from meeting or communicating with the accuser whenever possible. If you must meet, have witnesses present and keep the interaction brief.
Falsely Accused of Harassment? Speak with an Expert
The team at Will & Will Law Firm is experienced in criminal defense cases and ready to help you navigate the difficult road ahead. We proudly fight for our clients and have reached award-winning status because of it.
With so much on the line, don’t risk hiring mediocre legal representation. To set up a free, confidential consultation, contact Will & Will.