A bad neighbor, just annoying, or is it criminal harassment?

Most of our clients and their families, especially those living in Philadelphia and its surrounding communities, have to live with neighbors who live within close proximity of them. In Philadelphia, for example, we have “row homes” where people literally share “party walls”, front porches, and small backyards which are often separated with just a wire fence. Even in suburban communities, neighbors live within feet of each other and often share lawns, hedges, trees, and other natural landmarks.

In most situations neighbors get along well and develop great relationships which sometimes last even when one decides to move away to a different area but this isn’t always the case. There are times when neighbors disagree with regards to care of the property, the volume of music, visitors, and even observances of certain holidays. Clients sometimes call our office and ask us about criminal complaints against their problem.

The most common questions usually focus around the criminal charge of criminal harassment. Criminal charges, however, should be the last resort and prior to filing a criminal complaint it’s important to understand that this type of course of action is completely adversarial. It’s much harder to file a criminal complaint than it is to simply try to speak to your neighbor about the issues in an attempt to resolve it out of court. There are also obviously civil court proceedings where the burden of proof is much lower (by the preponderance of the evidence) but these types of proceedings sometimes don’t adequately address the underlying problem.

Before filing a criminal complaint or calling police about harassment, remember the burden of proof in a criminal proceeding is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The Commonwealth through the Assistant District Attorney will have to establish each and every element of the particular crime by that standard. This is a much higher burden of proof than civil court.

A person commits the crime of harassment if that person, with the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm, strikes or kicks a person or attempts to threaten another in the same way. A person also commits a crime of harassment when he or she follows a person in or about a public place or engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which serve no legitimate purpose. Further, harassment is committed when a person communicates repeatedly in an annoying manor during extremely inconvenient hours (i.e yelling at night for no reason). Harassment is normally graded as a summary offense but it can be a misdemeanor of the third degree if the conduct is repeated or the communication is considered lude, threatening, or obscene. For more about criminal defense in Pennsylvania I encourage you to subscribe to our newsletter or visit out free download section.