Cyberstalking refers to the intimidation, harassment or bullying of an individual using electronic means of communication such as the Internet, e-mail, pager, text messaging or instant messaging, a fax machine or even a telephone. Under California law, harassing or threatening individuals to the point in which they fear for their own safety and the safety of their loved ones is prohibited.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the very first charge under California’s cyberstalking statute came in the case of a security guard in North Hollywood who was accused of using the Internet in an attempt to set up the rape of a woman who had spurned his romantic advances. Prosecutors said the man posted lurid online ads on behalf of his alleged victim that she was into “rape and gang-bang” fantasies. The woman told officials that at least six different men came to her apartment saying they were responding to her steamy ads.
Vigorous Prosecution for Cyberstalking
In this day and age where electronic communication is indispensable in our personal and professional lives, cyberstalking and Internet crimes have become extremely common. Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in California are taking these charges very seriously because they view it as a precursor to potentially violent crimes.
Common examples of incidents that end up being prosecuted include instances where individuals are:
• Constantly sending out threatening or harassing emails or text messages.
• “Sexting” or sending the victim unwanted, offensive or disturbing images and messages.
• Posting false or embarrassing information about the alleged victim on social networking or other sites.
• Damaging a person’s credit by logging into their online bank or credit card accounts.
Five Ways You Can Be Found Guilty of Cyberstalking
You can be found guilty of cyberstalking in California if you have:
• Violated California’s anti-stalking law (California Penal Code Section 646.9) by willfully harassing another individual by making that person fear for his or her own safety or that of his or her family members.
• Violated California Penal Code Section 646.9 (a) when there is a temporary restraining order, injunction or any other court order in effect prohibiting the behavior described in that code. If convicted, defendants face up to four years in state prison (California Penal Code Section 646.9 b).
• Made criminal threats or terrorist threats against someone (California Penal Code Section 422). Criminal threats refer to the type of threats which put the recipient in fear of injury or harm. If these criminal threats are sent on more than one occasion by email, texting or any other electronic communication device, you could be charged with cyberstalking and making criminal threats.
• Sent harmful matter to a child (California Penal Code Section 288.2). If you repeatedly send obscene or sexually explicit material to a minor with the intent of sexually stimulating yourself or the recipient, you could face cyberstalking charges in addition to sending harmful matter to a child charges.
• Annoy someone by making repeated phone calls (California Penal Code Section 653 (m)). This refers to repeated contact or attempt to contact using a telephone (landline or cell phone), email or instant messaging.
Penalties for Cyberstalking
Cyberstalking in California can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts and circumstances of the case and the criminal history of the defendant.
• If you are convicted of misdemeanor cyberstalking, you could be sentenced to up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
• A felony charge may result in up to five years in state prison and fines of up to $1,000.
• Defendants may face domestic violence charges (California Penal Code Section 273.5) in addition to cyberstalking charges, depending on the facts of their individual cases.
• Depending on the circumstances of the case, defendants may also be required to register as a sex offender under California Penal Code Section 290.
Defenses Against Cyberstalking Charges
If you have been charged with cyberstalking, it is important that you contact an experienced California criminal defense lawyer who will present a number of possible defenses including mistaken identity, potential false allegations or the lack of a credible threat. Very often, cyberstalking charges are filed without proper basis. They are based on the statements of individuals who may have been overreacting or who may have complained to get back at someone. A knowledgeable defense attorney will be able to sift through these complex issues and emerge with a positive outcome. Call (877) 466-5245 to discuss your case. We will get through this together.