November 16, 2023 By Paul Wallin

People v. Peterson | What Does The Prosecutor Have to Prove to Convict You of Stalking?

Stalking is a serious criminal offense. It involves persistent and unwanted attention, harassment, or communication directed towards an individual without their consent. In California, stalking is considered a criminal offense and is punishable by law.

California has specific laws in place to protect individuals from being stalked. The state’s Penal Code defines stalking as any willful and malicious course of conduct that seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses another person and serves no legitimate purpose. This includes following the victim, making unwanted phone calls or sending threatening messages, showing up uninvited at their home or workplace, or monitoring their online activity. However, to be convicted of stalking, the accused’s actions must constitute a reasonable threat. In other words, there must be a credible threat to the alleged victim. In recent years, there has been a growing number of stalking cases that have resulted in arrests, prosecutions, and convictions. One such case involves Bruce Peterson, who was convicted in trial court of stalking Julia Ackley and her family. 

If you have been charged with stalking, you need an experienced defense attorney on your side. Choosing Wallin & Klarich to represent your case puts you in a better position to receive the best outcome for your case. We have over 40 years of experience in Southern California. Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL  for your free consultation!


In February 2020, Peterson attended an open house supporting a local bond measure held at the home of Lafayette City Councilmember Camron Lee Burks and his wife, Julia Ackley. During the event, Peterson engaged in an odd conversation with Ackley, where he mentioned her birthday, which he had access to through Facebook. This exchange would be the beginning of a series of events that would escalate to alleged illegal behavior.

In March 2020, Peterson reposted a public photo from Ackley’s Facebook page that included the couple and their two daughters. Peterson’s comment on the photo questioned the girls’ last names as Burks and Ackley had different surnames. Finally, in April, Peterson mailed a letter and check to Ackley’s home address, attacking local politics and making a check payable to “anyone who is not corrupt.” The check also included a note referencing Ackley’s daughters’ names. Peterson was accused of felony stalking Ackley. 

Stalking Defined

Under Penal Code Section 646.9, stalking is defined as the willful and malicious harassment of another person with the intent to place them in reasonable fear for their safety, or the safety of their family. This crime involves a pattern of behavior that, when taken as a whole, would  cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety. While stalking can take many forms, such as following someone or making unwanted contact, one important aspect of this crime is the concept of what is a “credible threat”.

A credible threat refers to a statement or behavior that a reasonable person would interpret as a serious expression of intent to commit an unlawful and violent act, even if the defendant does not actually intend to do so. However, it is crucial to note that not all speech falls under the purview of stalking. Constitutionally protected activity, such as political speech or peaceful protests, cannot be used as the basis for a stalking conviction.


In Peterson, the court ruled that Peterson’s actions did not constitute stalking. Peterson’s trial court conviction was based on his speech and communications, including his remarks at an open house for a political event, social media posts, and a letter that was circulated. All of these communications related to local political matters. Because all of his actions stemmed from political motivations, they were examined in light of Peterson’s First Amendment protections which protect freedom of speech. In order for Peterson’s actions to be considered stalking, the actions must constitute a reasonable threat and, thus, be unprotected by the First Amendment. In other words, the court must consider whether “the speech at issue is an unprotected true threat” to a reasonable person. Here, the court held that Peterson’s actions did not constitute stalking because they did not rise to the level to be seen as a “serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence. Furthermore, while Peterson’s comments may have been off-putting, they did not contain any inappropriate or threatening undertones. Therefore, his speech and actions were constitutionally protected and could not be considered as stalking.

Contact Us

If you or a loved one are being charged with or accused of stalking, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for the legal help you will need. We have been helping people win their stalking cases for over 40 years. Call us now at 877 466-5245.  When you call, we will go over the details of your case and map out a successful plan for your case.  With over 40+ years of experience helping clients just like you, we are ready and prepared to make a difference in your case!

AUTHOR: Paul Wallin

Paul Wallin is one of the most highly respected attorneys in Southern California. His vast experience, zealous advocacy for his clients and extensive knowledge of many areas of the law make Mr. Wallin a premiere Southern California attorney. Mr. Wallin founded Wallin & Klarich in 1981. As the senior partner of Wallin & Klarich, Mr. Wallin has been successfully representing clients for more than 30 years. Clients come to him for help in matters involving assault and battery, drug crimes, juvenile crimes, theft, manslaughter, sex offenses, murder, violent crimes, misdemeanors and felonies. Mr. Wallin also helps clients with family law matters such as divorce and child custody.

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