N.J. anti-stalking law ruled constitutional by state appeals court
New Jersey’s anti-stalking law does not infringe on First Amendment freedoms, a state appeals court ruled recently in affirming the conviction of a man who repeatedly followed an 18-year-old woman late at night.
Anthony Cardell, 43, appealed a jury conviction for stalking to the appellate division of the state superior court. The jury found that Cardell violated the law in September 1996 after he followed Mandi Peterson several times from her work late at night in Toms River after she had spurned his request for sexual favors.
Cardell contended that the law was both unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.
However, the appeals court’s ruling on Feb. 10 rejected Cardell’s argument that the law criminalized constitutionally protected behavior.
The law states that a person commits the crime of stalking by purposefully engaging “in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear bodily injury to himself or a member of his immediate family.”
The law defines “course of conduct” as “repeatedly maintaining a visual or physical proximity to a person or repeatedly conveying verbal or written threats” to another person.
Cardell argued that the phrase “maintaining a visual or physical proximity” limited his movement and the phrase “conveying verbal threats” unduly restricted his speech.
In State v. Cardell, the appeals court noted that the challenged phrases “cannot be considered in isolation.” For instance, the court explained that the law requires the speech be directed at a specific person, occur on at least two occasions, and place a person in reasonable fear for his or her life.
The court relied on its 1997 opinion in State v. Saunders in which it upheld New Jersey’s original anti-stalking law passed in 1992. The law was amended in 1996. Cardell attempted to distinguish his case from Saunders by pointing out that the new law failed to contain the following provision in the 1992 law: “Constitutionally protected activity is not included within the meaning of ‘course of conduct.’”
However, the appeals court dismissed Cardell’s argument, writing: “That vaguely expressed exception from the original statute’s reach added nothing of substance.”
“Few, if any, rights are as precious to Americans as those contained in the First Amendment to our Federal Constitution, but that great Amendment is not a refuge against criminal laws that do not restrict our protected freedoms,” the court wrote. “In short, there is no constitutional right to threaten other people in the manner prohibited by our anti-stalking statute.”
The court also rejected Cardell’s arguments that the statute was unconstitutionally vague because it did not adequately inform individuals when their conduct would violate the law.
“It is clear what type of conduct is proscribed,” the court wrote in response.
The appeals court concluded that Cardell’s conduct was “threatening, purposeful and directed at the victim” and was a “patent violation of the statute.”
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