Using social media to “cyberbully” someone has become an all too common occurrence in our online-dependent world. People intent on speaking or doing evil may feel the online environment protects them from any legal consequences. But what many people may not realize is that harsh words made online can lead to serious criminal charges.
Can you be charged with a crime for using Facebook or Twitter to harass, stalk or threaten someone? Absolutely.
Under California law, you may be guilty of a number of different crimes if you intentionally use electronic communication to threaten someone.
Additionally, if you create a phony profile on a social media site or assume someone else’s identity in a chat room (for example, to facilitate your online harassment), you could be federally prosecuted for lying over the Internet.
Here’s a look at some of the crimes you may be committing if you start a social media war with someone…
Cyberstalking in California (Penal Code Section 646.9)
“Cyberstalking” is online harassment using an electronic communication device. It is one way to violate California’s stalking laws. Penal Code section 646.9 prohibits the willful, malicious and repeated following or harassing of another person. You violate this law if you make a credible threat towards someone with the intent of placing that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety or threaten the safety of that person’s immediate family member.
Stalking is a “wobbler” offense in California, which means it may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor conviction of PC 646.9 is punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine. A felony conviction is punishable by up to three years in state prison.
If you violate a restraining order, injunction or other court order by stalking someone, you can be charged with a felony, which is punishable by up to four years in prison. Any subsequent felony conviction carries up to five years imprisonment.
Furthermore, if you are convicted of felony cyberstalking, the judge may order you to register as a sex offender pursuant to Penal Code section 290. The judge will likely only impose this penalty if he or she believes that you stalked the alleged victim “as a result of sexual compulsion or for sexual gratification.”
Cyberharassment in California (Penal Code Section 653.2)
“Cyberharrassment” is essentially intentional online harassment. “Harassment” means conduct directed at a specific person that a reasonable person would consider seriously alarming, annoying, tormenting or terrorizing that person and that serves no legitimate purpose.
California Penal Code section 653.2 prohibits using an electronic communication device to intentionally cause someone to reasonably fear for his or her safety or the safety of an immediate family member. It includes electronic distribution of the following without the victim’s consent for the purposes of harassment:
- Another’s personal identifying information;
- A digital image of the person (for example “revenge porn”); as well as
- A message intended to harass that person.
Using an electronic communication device to cause a person unwanted physical contact is also prohibited. Electronic communication means using the Internet, a cellphone, computer, tablet, fax machine or any other method of communication to:
- Hyperlink; or
- Make information available for download.
A violation of section 653.2 is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.
Criminal Threats (Penal Code Section 422)
“Criminal threats” under Penal Code section 422 means willfully threatening to commit a crime against another person which will result in death or great bodily injury.
You can be charged with making criminal threats if you communicate a specific intent to do someone harm, even if you have no intent of actually following through on that threat. The threat must be:
- Immediate; and
If your threat causes the person to sustain a reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her immediate family member, you could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony for violating PC 422. The victim of the alleged threat must feel a sustained fear, which means it lasts longer than just at that moment.
Your “communication” can be made verbally, in writing or through an electronic device, such as commenting on someone’s Facebook page or through text messages.
Call the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today
If you or someone you care about has been accused of a cybercrime, you should speak to one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich right away. A conviction for cyber harassment can mean serious jail or prison time, fines and other consequences, including lifetime sex offender registration.
Our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 30 years of experience successfully defending our clients facing criminal charges.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, our attorneys are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide you with the very best legal representation. We will help you get the best possible result in your case.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.