What is the Law on Stalking in Montana? (FAQ and Resources)
Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA)
If you are stalked while in the State of Montana, this article will help you understand:
- The law on stalking
- What you can do to keep yourself safe
- How you can gather and keep evidence so that it may be used in a legal case.
Stalking is about obsession. It may be motivated by intense feelings towards someone. Those feelings could be an unhealthy attraction or hatred. Stalking behavior involves a series of acts which at first may seem harmless but can quickly escalate into dangerous, even deadly, situations. Stalking can cause the victim to fear for their safety or suffer substantial emotional distress.
In Montana there is a law that makes stalking illegal and holds stalkers accountable.
The Law on Stalking in Montana
Below is a summary of the law on stalking in Montana. You can read the law for yourself at Montana Code Annotated (MCA), § 45-5-220. Stalking. The “§” is a symbol that means section. 45 is the Title number. 5 is the Chapter number. And, 220 is the Section number. A shorter way of writing the law is MCA, 45-5-220.
Here are some important parts about the law in Montana on Stalking:
- Stalking can include following, harassing, and/or intimidating someone in person, by phone, mail, online, or in other ways.
- Stalking is a “course of conduct” or pattern of behavior directed at a victim. Stalking is not a single act.
- The stalker must know that that their actions scare and/or cause the victim substantial emotional distress.
- Evidence that the stalker was told that the victim does not want to be contacted or followed can be used against a stalker in a court case. This is an important part of the law. We will talk more about it in the “What is Actual Notice?” section.
- Stalking does not include constitutionally protected activity. This part can be complicated so talk to a lawyer if you have any questions.
- The prosecutor has the authority to charge someone with a crime for stalking. A prosecutor will base their decision on the strength of the evidence against a stalker and other factors.
- Stalking victims have legal rights throughout a criminal case against their stalker. Learn more about victim rights.
- The sentence for a first offense can be up to 1 year in jail and/or $1,000 fine.
- There is a stronger penalty for the second offense or if the stalker has a restraining order against them. The sentence for a second offense, or when there is a restraining order in place, is up to 5 years in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. The court paperwork for a restraining order will say “Order of Protection.”
- You may be eligible for an Order of protection against a stalker. An Order of Protection is a civil matter. Getting an Order of Protection does not get a stalker into criminal trouble. However, if a stalker breaks the Order, they could be pressed with criminal charges. Learn more Orders of Protection.
Knowing your rights may help you stay safe. If you have any questions about the law, it’s a good idea to talk to a lawyer. It is also helpful to know that there may be free legal and non-legal help available for victims of stalking.
Who Can be Stalked?
Stalking can happen to anyone. Stalkers don't just target their victim, but also their victim's families, friends, and others who know them.
Victims can be someone the stalker knows well, casual acquaintances, or random targets. For example, a stalker could be a spouse, an ex, someone you went out on a date with a couple of times, a stranger, or someone you think of as a friend. Through constant harassment, stalkers try to make themselves the focus of their victims' lives.
Most often stalking takes place between people who have been in an intimate relationship together. Stalking can also happen between acquaintances or strangers.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Safety:
- Get help. Call 911 if you are in danger. If you need to leave where you are at look for the nearest police station, fire station, or crowded area if you feel in danger or are being followed.
- You are the expert on your safety. The most important thing to know is that you are the expert on how to keep yourself safe. If something doesn’t feel right, go with your instinct.
- Try to avoid all personal contact. Treat stalkers as if they are very dangerous and stay away from them. If they confront you, avoid any action or words that might anger them. Don't get drawn into a discussion. Get away from them as soon as you can safely do so and then contact the police.
- Keep personal information about you safe. Tell your friends, family members, and co-workers not to release information about you. Be especially careful with your address and phone numbers.
- Remove identification on documents. Remove your home address on personal checks and business cards.
- Set up social media restrictions. Most social media platforms have privacy settings that control what people can see about you.
- Unfriend anyone who may put you at risk. Your stalker’s friends may not understand how dangerous it is for you, and they could let the stalker use their social media account to check on you. You may need to unfriend people who your stalker is close to so you can protect yourself.
- Change your passwords. It’s a good idea to change the passwords to all your:
- Social media,
- Work accounts,
- Rewards and membership programs, and
- Financial accounts.
- Keep your address safe. You have a few options:
- Screen your calls. Use Caller ID. Don’t accept calls from unknown or blocked numbers. Keep voicemails and texts the stalker sends you. Contact your phone company and local police about how to best screen your calls and keep copies of any voicemails or texts.
- Secure your property and your residence. Keep personal property locked in your desk or locker at work. Keep your vehicle locked when you are in it and when it’s parked. Keep your doors locked, even when you’re home.
- Inform people close to you. If you are comfortable doing so, you should let others around you know what's going on. Describe the threatening person to them; however, photographs work better. Describe their vehicle and give the license plate number to family members, neighbors, co-workers, school officials, daycare providers, apartment managers, and the police.
- Tell people at work. Notify your supervisor and co-workers about your situation. Give them information so they can identify your stalker. Ask that your co-workers notify you if your stalker tries to contact in any way. If you have an Order of Protection, leave an extra copy at your work. Remind your co-workers that they can call the police if you have an Order of Protection or if they feel threatened.
- Get a Hope Card. A Hope Card is a wallet-sized copy of an Order of Protection with a picture of the person you have it against. It can help others, including law enforcement, quickly identify your stalker.
- Be alert and be aware. Be alert for anything unusual left for you at your work or home. Be aware of anyone following you to and from work or home. Make a plan to have a co-worker to walk with you to your car every time and make sure to always have your charged cell phone on you. Talk to your supervisor about parking as close to the door as possible and in a well-lit area.
- Change up your routine. If possible, try to switch the days or times you grocery shop, do laundry, go to the gym, etc.
- Come up with a safety plan. A safety plan is a personalized plan to protect yourself from your stalker. We have already given you tips that you can use but it is important to consider all your options when creating a plan. Contact your local domestic violence program or Crime Victim Advocate’s Office for more help with a safety plan. The Stalking Resource Center also has more tips about safety planning for victims of stalking.
The law says that if the stalker has actual notice that the victim does not want to be contacted or followed, that can be used against the stalker in a criminal case. Giving the stalker actual notice can show a court that the stalker knew what they were doing was harassing, threatening, or intimidating the victim. This can help build a criminal case against a stalker.
Actual Notice means that the stalker had some kind of knowledge that the victim did not want to be contacted or followed. There is no specific language or method that must be used for a notice to be valid. What’s important is that the notice tells the stalker to stop trying to contact the victim. You can simply say something like, “I don’t want you to try to contact or follow me anymore. Please stop.”
Your safety should be your first priority when giving notice to a stalker. Second, you want to be able to show a court that the stalker actually knew you didn’t want them contacting you. A certified letter is a common way to show actual notice. But, sending a certified letter may also escalate a situation because a stalker may find it threatening. Your stalker could act more dangerous after feeling threatened. You may also use email, a text, or social media message. Take a screenshot showing that your message was read. Keep any screenshots or records showing that you gave actual notice safe, in case you need it for court.
For your safety, it’s a really good idea to talk to a Crime Victim Advocate and a lawyer if you have any questions about giving notice to a stalker. You can also reach out to your local law enforcement, if you feel comfortable doing so.
How to Store and Handle Evidence:
Disclaimer: The below list contains some tips for how to handle evidence so it may be used in a court case against your stalker. This is not a complete list of everything that you can do to keep evidence. Following these tips does not guarantee that a court will consider your evidence. Please contact law enforcement and/or your local domestic violence program for more specific information on how to properly collect and store evidence.
- Keep records of all stalking/harassing behavior. You can find a link to download a Keep Me Safe Journal in the Take Action section of this article. The journal can help you keep track of all the things the stalker has done to make you feel unsafe. We talked earlier how the law defines stalking as a “course of conduct” or a pattern of behavior directed at a victim. Your journal may be used as evidence to show a course of conduct directed at you.
- Record each time your stalker makes you feel threatened as its own incident. This can happen when your stalker shows up unexpectedly, contacts you through a note, email, or text, or other behavior that makes you feel scared.
- Keep accurate dates, times, and locations of where events took place, items received, and names of any witnesses.
- Keep all copies of letters, envelopes and all packing materials, as well as texts, emails, voicemails, videos, and screenshots. Keep whatever they leave you. This can be a note, an article of clothing, or a picture they draw for you.
- Preserve other evidence. There may be other helpful evidence in your case, like the stalker’s fingerprints or saliva. But, those aren’t always necessary to prove a case. It’s a good idea to reach out to law enforcement before trying to gather this kind of evidence for specific advice. Here are some general tips for preserving fingerprints and saliva: Touch only the outer edges of letters, packages and packing materials, gifts, etc. Put everything in large brown paper bags. Don’t use plastic bags since this can cause condensation and possibly ruin any evidence. Store the paper bags in a dry location. Contact police and turn this evidence over to them.
Remember you’re not alone. If you’re at the point of gathering evidence in your case, we strongly encourage you to reach out to law enforcement, a Crime Victim Advocate, and/or a lawyer to make sure that you’re gathering evidence correctly and that you are safe doing so.
Stalking is about obsession. Stalking is a pattern of behavior that scares and/or causes the victim substantial emotional distress. Stalking can start small and escalate into dangerous, even deadly, situations. The most important thing for a victim is to protect their safety. You don’t have to go it alone. There may be free legal and non-legal help available.
Stalking is illegal in Montana. Stalkers can be punished with a fine and/or jail time. A victim may also be eligible for an Order of Protection against a stalker. An Order of Protection is a civil matter. Getting an Order of Protection does not get a stalker into criminal trouble. However, if a stalker breaks an Order of Protection, they may face criminal charges.
Keep records and copies of each time your stalker makes you feel threatened. This can happen when your stalker shows up unexpectedly, contacts you through a note, email, or text, or other behavior that makes you feel scared. The Keep Me Safe Journal can help you keep a record of stalking incidents that may help you with a legal case.
Keep Me Safe Journal
- Download the Keep Me Safe Journal to help you record evidence of stalking.
Petition Temporary Order of Protection (TOP)
If you have not already applied for a Temporary Order of Protection (TOP) and want to, you can find forms on this website to do that. You can download our write-in-the blank one and complete it by hand. Or, you can use our interactive form and answer questions online and then download a completed form and file it with the court.
- Follow this link to the write-in-the-blank Petition for Temporary Order of Protection.
- Follow this link to the interactive Petition for Temporary Order of Protection.
Change Your Order of Protection
If you already have an Order of Protection but want to ask the court to change, terminate, or renew it, or to ask for an earlier or later hearing on the Order of Protection, you can:
- Follow this link to the Motion for Order of Protection Modification.
- The Montana Attorney General has forms and information on Hope Cards.
Keep Your Address Safe
- The Montana Attorney General has forms and information for the Address Confidentiality Program.
Safety planning may help you stay safe from your stalker, even if you get an Order of Protection.
- Read our article on Safety Planning.
- Get help with safety planning from a Crime Victim Advocate near you.
- Learn more about safety planning from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
- Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) provides free civil legal help to eligible clients. Learn more about how to apply for free legal help.
- If you have or are going to file for an Order of Protection somewhere outside of Montana, you will want to find legal help in that state.