ARS § 13-2921 is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of harassment. You commit this offense if
- you engage in conduct that is directed at a specific person and
- that would cause a reasonable person to be seriously alarmed, annoyed, or harassed and the conduct in fact seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses the person.
Most violations of this law are Class 1 misdemeanors punishable by a jail term of six months.
The language of ARS § 13-2921 lists several ways in which a person can commit this offense. Some of these include when the person:
- contacts or communicates with another person in a manner that harasses,
- follows another person in a public place for no legitimate purpose after being asked to desist, and
- repeatedly commits an act or acts that harass another person.
- repeatedly calling a specific person and making hostile comments.
- continuing to follow a person in public, even after the alleged victim asks the harasser to stop.
- visiting a person’s home everyday and staring into the house at the homeowner for several minutes.
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help defendants challenge harassment charges. Some of these include showing that:
- the conduct in question did not annoy or alarm the “victim,”
- the conduct was not reasonably alarming, and/or
- the accused was falsely accused.
Harassment against a public officer or employer is a Class 5 felony punishable by up to four years in state prison.
All other harassing offenses under ARS 13-2921 are Class 1 misdemeanors punishable by up to six months in jail.
In this article, our criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under this statute, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related crimes.
1. How does Arizona law define “harassment”?
Arizona criminal law defines “harassment” as conduct that is directed at a specific person and that would cause a reasonable person to be seriously alarmed, annoyed, or harassed and the conduct, in fact, seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses the person.i
ARS 13-2921 lists several specific ways a person can commit this crime. These include when a person:
- anonymously or otherwise contacts, communicates, or causes a communication with another person by verbal, electronic, mechanical, telegraphic, telephonic, or written means in a manner that harasses,
- continues to follow another person in a public place for no legitimate purpose after being asked to desist,
- repeatedly commits an act or acts that harass another person,ii
- surveils or causes another person to surveil a person for no legitimate purpose,
- on more than one occasion makes a false report to a law enforcement, credit, or social service agency, and
- interferes with the delivery of any public or regulated utility to a person.iii
This section does not apply to an otherwise lawful demonstration, assembly, or picketing.iv
While ARS 13-2921 is the Arizona statute that addresses harassment, ARS 13-2921.01 is the state statute on “aggravated harassment.” A person typically commits this offense when:
- he/she harasses another person, and
- a court has issued an order of protection or an injunction against harassment against the person and in favor of the victim of harassment and the court order or injunction has been served and is still valid.v
2. Are there defenses to ARS 13-2921 charges?
People can challenge criminal charges brought under this statute with a legal defense. Three common defenses include accused people showing that:
- their alleged harassing conduct did not alarm, annoy, or harass anybody.
- their conduct was not reasonably alarming.
- they were falsely accused.
2.1 Conduct did not alarm or annoy
Recall that people are only guilty of harassment if their conduct did in fact seriously alarm, annoy, or harasses the “victim.” A defense, then, is for defendants to show that their conduct really did not bother the alleged victim.
2.2 Conduct not reasonably alarming
Also recall that people are only guilty of this offense if their conduct would cause a reasonable person to be seriously alarmed, annoyed, or harassed. Therefore, defendants can always use the defense that their conduct was not reasonably alarming or annoying.
2.3 Falsely accused
Unfortunately, people get falsely accused of harassment all the time (for example, out of revenge or jealousy). This means it is always a defense for an accused to show that the “victim” made a false report to the police, or that he/she was otherwise unjustly blamed.
3. What are the penalties?
A criminal offense under this statute that involves harassment against a public officer or employee is a Class 5 felony.vi
A Class 5 felony is punishable by custody in state prison for up to four years.
All other forms of unlawful harassment under this statute are Class 1 misdemeanors.
A Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by:
- a jail term of up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $2,500.
For purposes of this section, note that a judge does have the authority to award a defendant with probation instead of jail time.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to harassment. These include:
- stalking – ARS 13-2923,
- threatening or intimidating – ARS 13-1202, and
- domestic violence – ARS 13-3601.
4.1 Stalking – ARS 13-2923
ARS 13-2923 is the Arizona statute that says a person commits the offense of stalking if he/she engages in conduct that results in the “victim” suffering emotional distress or fear of injury or property damage.
While harassment involves a “victim” being annoyed or alarmed, this statute focuses on a “victim’s” emotional distress or fear of injury.
4.2 Threatening or intimidating – ARS 13-1202
ARS 13-1202 is the Arizona statute that says people commit the offense of threatening or intimidating when they either:
- threaten to injure someone physically,
- threaten to cause a serious public inconvenience (for example, the evacuation of a piece of real property), or
- threaten to injure another person to promote a street gang, a criminal syndicate, or a racketeering enterprise.
As with most violations of ARS 13-2921, most violations of this statute are Class 1 misdemeanors.
4.3 Domestic violence – ARS 13-3601
ARS 13-3601 is the Arizona statute on the crime of domestic violence. According to this statute, a person commits a domestic violence offense if:
- he/she commits one of the crimes specifically mentioned in the statute (for example, sexual assault), and
- the defendant is in a certain relationship with the “victim” (for example, married to the victim or in a romantic or sexual relationship with the victim).
Harassment is one of the crimes specifically mentioned in this statute. If a defendant commits it against someone that he is in a certain relationship with, then, such person can be charged with both:
- harassment, per ARS 13-2921, and
- domestic violence, per ARS 13-3601.
- Arizona Revised Statutes 13-2921. The language of the statute reads as follows:A. A person commits harassment if the person knowingly and repeatedly commits an act or acts that harass another person or the person knowingly commits any one of the following acts in a manner that harasses:1. Contacts or causes a communication with another person by verbal, electronic, mechanical, telegraphic, telephonic or written means.2. Continues to follow another person in or about a public place after being asked by that person to desist.3. Surveils or causes a person to surveil another person.
4. Makes a false report to a law enforcement, credit or social service agency against another person.
5. Interferes with the delivery of any public or regulated utility to another person.
B. A person commits harassment against a public officer or employee if the person, with intent to harass, files a nonconsensual lien against any public officer or employee that is not accompanied by an order or a judgment from a court of competent jurisdiction authorizing the filing of the lien or is not issued by a governmental entity or political subdivision or agency pursuant to its statutory authority, a validly licensed utility or water delivery company, a mechanics’ lien claimant or an entity created under covenants, conditions, restrictions or declarations affecting real property.
C. Harassment under subsection A is a class 1 misdemeanor. Harassment under subsection B is a class 5 felony.
D. This section does not apply to any of the following:
1. A lawful demonstration, assembly or picketing.
2. A professional investigator or peace officer who is licensed by this state and who is acting within the scope of the investigator’s or officer’s duties in connection with any criminal or civil investigation.
3. A certified and duly authorized process server who is acting within the scope of the process server’s duties in connection with any judicial or administrative action or proceeding.
E. For the purposes of this section, “harass” means conduct that is directed at a specific person and that would cause a reasonable person to be seriously alarmed, annoyed, humiliated or mentally distressed and the conduct in fact seriously alarms, annoys, humiliates or mentally distresses the person.
- United States v. Schipke, 446 F. App’x 51 (9th Cir. 2011).
- A.R.S. 13-2921 Subsection A.
- ARS 13-2921D.
- ARS 13-2921.01A1.
- ARS 13-2921 Subsection B and Subsection C.