A 24-year-old man was sentenced to 4 years in prison and 15 years probation after being found guilty of cyberstalking a fellow student at the University of Central Florida. As an Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney, it has been my experience that the Orange County Courts are extremely aggressive when it comes to this type of crime.
Cyberstalking is a relatively new crime, which is occurring more often due to the increased sophistication of electronic communication. Law enforcement agencies have actually developed special “task forces” to investigate and handle these matters as more incidents are being reported. In 1998, the California legislature amended it’s stalking laws to include electronically communicated threats. Basically, cyberstalking is stalking by the use of an electronic communication device. California stalking laws prohibit harassing and/or threatening someone to the point that they fear for their safety or the safety of a family member. If the threat or harassment is communicated through email, text, phone, Internet, video, fax or any other electronic device, it is referred to as cyberstalking.
Regardless of how severe the circumstances, the Orange County District Attorney prosecutes stalking cases aggressively. Here are some examples of cyberstalking, some of which may come as a bit of a surprise to some people:
Unwanted/unsolicited threatening or harassing emails;
Unwanted and/or disturbing pages, instant messages, text or sext messages I (“sexts” or “sexting” refers to sending explicit photos or messages, cell phone to cell phone);
Posing as another person in a chat room and writing things on behalf of that individual that are intended to anger other chat room participants;
Posting embarrassing, or humiliating information about the alleged victim;
Posting personal information (including a phone number, address, workplace, etc) about another person, encouraging others to harass that person.
Logging into on-line accounts to empty a person’s bank account or ruin that person’s credit.
In order to be convicted of cyberstalking, the prosecution must prove the same elements as in the traditional California anti-stalking laws, only the credible threat must have been made electronically. The following are the elements that must be proven:
Maliciously or willfully harassed or threatened another person
Made a credible threat against that person;
Placing that person in reasonable fear for them self or their family;
The threat or harassment was communicated by the Internet or other electronic device.
If convicted of cyberstalking, the sentence can range a great deal. Cyberstalking is a “wobbler” meaning that the prosecution can file the case as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending upon the facts of the incident and the criminal history of the accused.
If convicted of misdemeanor cyberstalking, the sentence may include: up to a year in a county jail and fines of up to $1,000.00.
A felony conviction for cyberstalking may include up to five years in the California State Prison, fines of up to $1,000.00 and possible lifetime registration as a sex offender under Penal Code 290.
There are defenses to this serious charge that an experienced criminal defense attorney will be familiar with and know the best way to present you and your defense to the prosecution. If only one element of the crime that the prosecution must prove is unfounded, the case must be dismissed. In other words, the prosecution must prove all of the elements in order to get a conviction.