“Aggressively” Following Someone in a Car for Several Blocks Because of Her Religion = Felony:

See yesterday’s Minnesota v. Stockwell (Minn. Ct. App.):

MH is a Muslim woman who immigrated to the United States from Somalia in 1994, and wears a headscarf. On September 12, 2006, MH was driving on a four-lane road in Rochester to her place of employment when she noticed a blue van following extremely close. According to MH, the van was virtually on her bumper and continued to follow her just as closely after two turns and numerous opportunities to pass.

MH testified that when she made a left turn into her workplace parking lot, the van had to wait for oncoming traffic before turning to follow her. Then the van continued to follow MH into the parking lot. MH quickly parked and rushed toward the building. The driver of the van, later identified as appellant, pulled up to the entrance of the building and rolled down her window. MH further testified that the driver assumed that she was Muslim, confronted her about Islamic terrorism and her Islamic religious beliefs, and told MH that she felt like killing her.

Appellant [Patricia Josephine Stockwell’]s testimony provided a different version of events. Appellant acknowledged that she was driving a van on September 12, 2006, to pick up her son from driving school, which was located across the street from MH’s workplace. Appellant testified that she was parked at the driving school when she observed MH walking from her car to her workplace door. Appellant testified that she noticed MH because of her headscarf. According to appellant, she drove across the street and into the parking lot to speak with MH. Appellant testified that she did not intend to cause appellant any fear, but stated that she had strong feelings about radical Islam and wished to share a message with other people about radical Islam. Appellant denied following MH or being angry.

At trial, appellant admitted that she was not truthful when she initially told the police that she had never confronted a Muslim woman and had never been in the parking lot of the building where MH worked.

A jury found appellant guilty of one count of felony stalking under Minn. Stat. § 609.749, subds. 2(a)(2), 3(a)(1) (2006), and acquitted her of harassment and disorderly conduct. The district court granted appellant‟s request for a downward durational departure and imposed a 365-day sentence, stayed for two years. ….

[The] conviction for stalking was based on appellant’s driving conduct and not her words in the parking lot. What was said to appellant in the parking lot was not relevant to the conviction other than to enhance the conviction [to a felony] on the grounds that appellant followed and pursued MH because of MH’s religion….

While a person can be convicted for a single act of stalking under the stalking-harassment provision of the Minnesota statute, [the statute] requires an element of intent because the statute requires that a person be harassing someone by following them…. [T]o harass “means to engage in intentional conduct which: (1) the actor knows or has reason to know would cause the victim under the circumstances to feel frightened, threatened, oppressed, persecuted, or intimidated; and (2) causes this reaction on the part of the victim.” Minn. Stat. § 609.749, subd. 1 (emphasis added)….

Here, appellant’s conduct of aggressively pursuing MH in a vehicle for several blocks clearly falls within the statute’s prohibitions….

I should note that the case struck me as noteworthy because the “conviction for stalking was based on appellant’s driving conduct and not her words in the parking lot” (presumably since the words were the subject of the harassment and disorderly charges on which Stockwell was acquitted). Had the jury convicted her of making a death threat (based on the allegation that Stockwell “told MH that she felt like killing her”), treating the crime as a felony would have seemed to me much more sensible.

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