Let’s Talk Bedlam

John Alberts

Is Following Your Spouse A Crime?

By John Alberts

My first job was in the Kay County District Attorney Office in Newkirk, Oklahoma. Part of my caseload was the prosecution of different types of crimes involving domestic violence.

My best day as a prosecutor was when First Assistant District Attorney James Emig and I put Timothy Wayne Lambert in prison for 1,600 years for touching four little girls. I have always been a strong advocate against domestic violence and child abuse.

Over the years I have seen the laws in Oklahoma evolve to offer more protection for victims. In 2018 another step was taken to protect victims by the passage of House Bill 3260. This bill added paragraph six (6) to Title 21, Section 1173 of the Oklahoma Statutes which now defines words like “harasses”, “unconsented contact” and most recently “following.”

The amendment added the language, “Following shall include the tracking of the movement or location of an individual through the use of a Global Posting System (GPS) device or other monitoring device by a person, or person who acts on behalf of another, without the consent of the individual whose movement or location is being tracked.”

The law seems to make illegal the following by one spouse of another unless you have consent. You cannot track or follow your significant other to check up on them according to my reading of the new law. So, this law leaves me asking, can a parent follow a child by tracking their cell phone? Could you check your spouse’s location with OnStar?

The answer to these questions and other similar questions then becomes, what is consent? Will you need a consent form from your eighteen (18) year old high school senior who is on your cell phone plan?

When new laws are passed, scenarios present themselves that may not be clear in the statute. In those situations, it is left up to a judge to interpret the law and then apply it to the particular fact pattern pending in their courtroom.

Over the years I have had dozens of conversations about having a spouse followed in divorce cases. My advice to clients in divorce cases is, do not “follow” your spouse. Do not follow a spouse by GPS, cell phone or hired private detective. Depending on your situation you could be committing a crime. I feel the legislature intended to increase protection for victims. Does this provision go too far? I would be interested to hear your thoughts about this new law.

John Alberts is a Yukon attorney. He can be reached at 405-232-2444.