When is Harassment a Criminal Matter and When is it a Civil Matter in California?

The difference between civil law and criminal law can be confusing at times. In some cases, there can exist both a civil and criminal component to an illegal act. This situation can be true when it comes to harassment. Depending on the details, harassment can be a civil and a criminal matter at the same time.

Civil cases can settle outside of court or go through litigation in court to come to a financial settlement for damages a victim suffered. Civil cases are brought by a person who has been the victim of some type of harm caused by another person’s actions. Criminal cases, by contrast, are brought by the government of a county or state whose purpose is to enforce specific punishments for one’s behavior. Depending on what the criminal charges are, the consequences can be strict.

In both civil and criminal cases, working with legal representation is advisable to improve the chances that you will secure the best possible outcome. In California, David M. Boertje is an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney that can help you if you are facing criminal charges.

How Can Harassment be a Civil and a Criminal Issue?

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on charges of harassment in California. California recognizes civil harassment as behavior that:

  • Includes unlawful violence such as assault.
  • A real and believable threat that violence may happen.
  • There is no reason for the unlawful violence or threats that are frightening and causing an individual to experience feelings of distress.

A victim of civil harassment can file a lawsuit against the party causing their troubles. If they are successful with their claim, they can obtain financial compensation. In some cases, they may also be able to have a restraining order issued. 

When a person is criminally charged with harassment, it is because the level of harassment they are inflicting on another person is elevated. It is willful and pernicious and it is happening regularly on a recurring basis. The behavior is also causing victims great fear regarding their safety.

Criminal punishments for harassment in California can include expensive fines and jail time in either a county or state facility. It is best for individuals charged with criminal harassment to connect with qualified legal counsel. These charges are very serious and can come with harsh punishments. An attorney will know how to form a strategic defense against the most severe penalties.

Jail time and fines are difficult enough to manage. Even after you have paid your fines and served your time, you may still struggle to achieve various goals in your life because you now have a criminal record. This is why it is crucial that you position yourself to obtain the most favorable outcome.

Speak to a San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney

To have strategic and seasoned legal counsel on your side after you were criminally charged with a crime, the San Diego criminal defense lawyer David M. Boertje can help. You can schedule a free, initial consultation with David M. Boertje today by calling (619) 229-1870 for the San Diego office or (760) 476-0901 for the Carlsbad location.


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