Lawmakers seek tougher state law on stalking


On a day designated to remember domestic violence victims, several Maryland legislators spoke out yesterday in support of legislation that would toughen the state's stalking law.

More than five dozen delegates and senators have sponsored a bill that would amend the stalking law for the first time since it was enacted in 1993.

"It is with great sadness that we feel this bill continues to be necessary," said Del. Carol S. Petzold, a Montgomery County Democrat who is the chief sponsor in the House.

The push for the legislation came as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and other state officials spoke at a memorial service in Annapolis, sponsored by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, to honor the 49 Marylanders killed in domestic violence last year.

Before the service, Petzold and domestic violence victims and advocates said changes to the stalking law are needed to convict more defendants.

The legislation would give prosecutors more leverage when seeking a conviction. Instead of having to prove a defendant intended to place another in fear, prosecutors would only have to prove a reasonable person would think the behavior would cause fear.

If approved, the legislation would also allow police to charge someone whose behavior causes someone to fear being sexually assaulted or caused serious injury.

The final change would upgrade stalking from a misdemeanor to a felony.

"This sends a message this is a serious crime that has to be taken seriously," said Michael Cogan, an assistant Anne Arundel County state's attorney who attended the news conference.

Joan Sullivan, 42, of Gambrills also attended to support the legislation. Sullivan said she was "terrorized" for five months last year by an ex-boyfriend.

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