Harassment Laws in New York State

By Kimberly Best ; Updated June 20, 2017
Man and woman having an argument on the street

In New York, harassment is a crime, and the maximum penalty is imprisonment up to four years. Each of the four types of harassment in New York has an intent element where the defendant must intend to harass, annoy or alarm the victim. For the more severe forms of harassment, the victim must have reasonably become apprehensive.

Separations of Degree

In the more severe forms of harassment, when a victim has reason to be apprehensive, perpetrators could do hard time, some as long as four years if the crime includes things like bias or repeat offenses. Many harassment cases, of course, fall far short of that severity. Accordingly, the New York Penal Code defines four degrees of harassment to cover graduated levels of seriousness.

Second-Degree Harassment

When someone applies physical force to another person, follows that person around in public places or engages in conduct intended to alarm or seriously annoy the person, this constitutes second-degree harassment. As in all harassment cases, the defendant must have the intent to harass, annoy or alarm the person, and the course of conduct can have no legitimate purpose. Second-degree harassment is a violation, and the maximum punishment is 15 days in jail.

First-Degree Harassment

Harassment in the first degree, a class B misdemeanor, occurs when the defendant’s conduct results in a victim being placed in reasonable fear of physical injury. The maximum penalty is three months' incarceration and a year’s probation.

Second-Degree Aggravated Harassment

Aggravated harassment in the second degree, a class A misdemeanor, can occur in several ways. Someone who communicates or attempts to communicate with another person with the intention of causing alarm or annoyance faces a charge of second-degree aggravated harassment. It may also be charged if the defendant applies physical force because of a person's race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation. In addition, second-degree aggravated harassment occurs whenever a defendant is convicted of first-degree harassment for the second time in a 10-year period. A conviction can mean up to a year’s incarceration and three years’ probation.

First-Degree Aggravated Harassment

New York saves its stiffest sanctions for first-degree aggravated harassment, a class E felony with a maximum penalty of four years’ imprisonment. Defined as intentionally setting out to annoy, threaten or alarm someone because of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation, the charge also needs the intent to commit one of the following acts: damage religious property, place a swastika on real property without the owner’s permission, set a cross on fire in public or place a noose on real property without the owner’s permission. First-degree aggravated harassment also occurs when a defendant is convicted twice in 10 years of second-degree aggravated harassment.

Stalking

Third-degree stalking occurs when a person intends to harass, annoy or alarm someone and acts in a way likely to cause the victim to fear physical injury, sexual assault, kidnapping or death, either personally or to a family member. This is a class A misdemeanor, which may bring up to a year’s imprisonment and three years’ probation.

About the Author

Kimberly Best has been writing on law, art, and travel for 16 years. She has worked with a variety of professional platforms including the Art Newspaper and the New York Public Radio.