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Do I Need a Lawyer for Neighbor Harassment?
Neighbor harassment is a term that includes intentional harassment or offensive behavior directed toward someone who lives next door or nearby within the same community. It can include assault and battery charges if the behavior becomes severe. In any event, a lawyer will be needed to defend you if you have been charged with harassing a neighbor.
Intent to Harass
You can be charged with harassment if your behavior is intended to harass a particular person or persons. If the conduct is merely insensitive, thoughtless or profane, it does not necessarily constitute a crime. Courts look at the relationship between the parties, as well as their ages, gender, occupation or sexual orientation to determine whether a specific act or communication arises to the level of harassment.
Common examples of neighbor harassment may include:
- Any communication that is deemed offensive or derogatory
- Playing extremely loud music at all hours
- Engaging in repeated acts with the specific purpose of annoying or alarming another person
- Threats of violence or assault
- Engaging in a course of offensive touching
Remedy of Injunctive Relief
An escalating dispute between neighbors can result in a court-ordered injunction or restraining order. Generally, such behavior must occur over time and be directed towards a specific person who is reasonably alarmed or seriously annoyed by it.
If you have been served with an injunction or restraining order against harassment and commit an act that is within the behavior proscribed in the injunction, you could be arrested and jailed, and possibly be charged with a felony.
Possible Harassment Charges
Depending on the severity of the neighbor harassment, you could be charged with a disorderly person offense, usually an infraction, or the more serious offenses of assault and/or battery.
Neighbor harassment is often a misdemeanor, but can be enhanced to a felony if the offender has a prior misdemeanor conviction or the act involves an imminent threat of violent action. Although most states require that the harassing behavior occur multiple times, if it involves a threat of violence that could result in death or severe physical harm, or the victim reasonably believes that a communication or action is likely to cause a violent response, then a felony may be charged. Other states may require the threat to be immediate for a charge of felony. Learn more about the differences between misdemeanors and felonies.
Someone who merely plays loud music once or twice or has an occasional raucous party may be charged with a disorderly person offense, but is rarely charged with anything more severe since there was no intent to harass a particular person.
Freedom of speech may not be a defense to a harassment charge since not all speech is protected. When the speech becomes particularly offensive or threatening, a line is crossed and the behavior becomes criminal. Generally, if the language is not for a legitimate purpose, then it may not be considered protected speech.
Although many neighbor disputes are minor, if not mildly annoying, any act by you that poses a physical threat or which is repeated and irritating can be considered criminal. You may need a criminal defense lawyer if you are charged with harassment.