September 15, 2022 By Paul Wallin

When Cyberbullying Becomes a Crime in California

With the prevalence of social media and texting, it’s no surprise that cyberbullying is a big problem in today’s society. However, what many people don’t realize is that cyberbullying can cross the line and become criminal conduct. Although California doesn’t have a specific law for cyberbullying, there are laws for stalking, harassment, and other forms of electronic communications used to harm another. This article details the different types of prohibited cyberbullying acts and their penalties. 

Prohibited Cyberbullying Acts 

Criminal Stalking 

Under California Penal Code Section 646.9, stalking is defined as willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following or harassing another person. In order to convict you of stalking, the prosecution must prove that you: 

  • Willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly followed or willfully and maliciously harassed another person 
  • Made a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family 

A credible threat is defined as a verbal or written threat, including that performed through an electronic communication device, or a threat implied by a pattern of conduct, made with the intent to place the target in reasonable fear for his or her safety and made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat. 

In California, stalking is considered a “wobbler” offense, meaning it could be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of your case. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, you may be facing the following penalties: 

  • Up to $1,000 in fines 
  • Up to 1 year in county jail 

On the other hand, if you are convicted of a felony, you may face: 

  • Up to $10,000 in fines 
  • 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in state prison 

Making Criminal Threats 

Depending on the nature of the online threat, you may be facing criminal charges. Under California Penal Code Section 422, you must meet certain elements in order to be prosecuted for making a criminal threat. These elements are as follows: 

  • The defendant willfully threatened to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person. 
  • The threat was made verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device. 
  • The defendant had the specific intent that the statement is to be taken as a threat, even if there was no intent of actually carrying it out. 
  • The threat was so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the threatened person an immediate prospect of execution of the threat. 
  • The threat thereby causes the victim reasonably to be in fear for his/her own safety or his/her immediate family’s safety. 

Making criminal threats is also a “wobbler” offense. For misdemeanor convictions, you may face: 

  • Up to $1,000 in fines 
  • Up to 1 year in county jail 

If you are convicted of a felony, you may be punished by: 

  • Up to $10,000 in fines 
  • Up to 3 years in state prison 

Sexual Exploitation 

Sextortion, otherwise known as sexual extortion, is a category of extortion related to sex crimes. Sextortion specifically is the practice of threatening to release someone’s sexually explicit pictures or videos. The blackmail is generally an attempt to extort money or sexual favors and has grown with the expansion of the Internet and social media. 

The consequences for sextortion depend on the specific circumstances of your case. Oftentimes, the charges for sextortion will be the same as those under traditional extortion law defined by California Penal Code Section 518. Extortion is a felony offense that is punishable by: 

  • Up to $10,000 in fines 
  • 2 to 4 years in prison 

If the defendant actually shared the victim’s sexually explicit pictures or videos online, they may also be violating California’s revenge porn law. This section makes it a misdemeanor to post non-consensual sexual images or videos of a person online when doing so causes a person to suffer serious emotional distress. This crime is punishable by: 

  • Up to $1,000 in fines 
  • Up to 6 months in county jail 

Contact Wallin & Klarich Today 

If you have been charged with criminal conduct online, contact our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich as soon as possible to see how we can help. With 40+ years of experience, Wallin & Klarich is your best choice amongst Southern California criminal defense firms. Our attorneys have helped thousands of clients in a wide range of cases, and we have the skills and resources to secure the best outcome for you. 

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, Torrance, West Covina, Los Angeles, and San Diego, you are sure to find an available and convenient attorney near you. Discover how our team can assist you. Contact us today, toll-free at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free consultation with a skilled defense attorney.

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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