Cyber bullying is frequently in the headlines these days. Young people being harassed in social media, sometimes with tragic results. Tech companies being urged by physicians and policy makers to come up with methods to ensure children are safe from bullying while online. And, research reports that reveal statistics on bullying in schools.
We tend to link cyber bullying to juvenile crime because many statutes related to online bullying are embodied in the California Education Code and every school in the state is required to have and enforce policies against cyber bullying. The Centers for Disease Control finds that 21% of girls and 15% of boys in California experience bullying in school. Seth’s Law, passed in 2011 after a California student committed suicide after being the victim of anti-gay harassment at school. expanded the body of law housed within the California Education Code to specifically include intimidation or bullying related to race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.
When bullying moves off school grounds and into social media and onto devices, young people can run afoul of a range of cyber bullying laws. Juvenile charges related to cyber bullying can lead to school suspension or expulsion, or even arrest and criminal charges if serious enough.
Cyber bullying is a crime in California and it just isn’t limited to minors. Anyone engaging in hate speech, criminal threats, harassment, intimidation or defamation online can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony charge and criminal fines and / or jail time, or can be liable for civil penalties.
‘Cyber bullying’ is a broad term used to refer to using electronic communications to harass, threaten, intimidate or cause harm to another person. Electronic communications means the use of devices or technologies such as mobile phone, instant messaging, texting, email, chat, and of course social media websites or apps. In the California Education Code, bullying is defined as “any physical or verbal conduct, including written communications, that may cause fear, mental distress, or interference with the victims studies.”
In general there are two types of online activities that are crimes in California:
1) Posting of Personal Information
California Penal Code 653.2 makes it a misdemeanor to post or distribute personally identifiable information without permission, or to harass another person, with the intent of causing that person to fear for his safety or the safety of their family, or for the purpose of causing unwanted contact or harassment by a third party.
2) Using Electronic Means to Harass
Posting text, video or photos; or using cell phones, web pages, or social media to communicate messages of a harassing nature that would incite injury or unlawful behavior is a misdemeanor crime. Messages of a harassing nature are defined as those that a reasonable person would consider seriously alarming, seriously annoying, or terrorizing.
The penalty if convicted for either type of misdemeanor is up to one year in jail and / or a fine of up to $1000.
California’s laws on stalking make threatening behavior or malicious harassment on electronic devices a crime. Cyber stalking is usually considered a misdemeanor, but can be charged as a felony if there is a prior conviction for stalking, or if the behavior is a violation of a protective order. Felony conviction can bring a penalty of up to five years in prison.
Laws on criminal threats that lead a person to fear for their safety or the safety of their family extends to the use of electronic devices in California. Making a criminal threat is a wobbler crime, meaning the prosecutor can charge it as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances and your criminal history. A felony conviction may mean up to three years in prison and / or a fine of up to $10,000 per threat.
One of the newest cyber bullying laws passed in California is Jordan’s Law. The law makes the video recording of a violent felony an aggravating factor in violent felony cases. The law allows the court, when sentencing a person convicted of a violent felony, to consider the willful video recording of the violence with the “intent to encourage or facilitate the offense” as a factor in the sentencing. Jordon’s Law was passed in response to a minor videotapping and posting on Snapchat the physical assault of a teen.
If you need help with defending and understanding your options with a cyber crime charge of any kind, call us right now about your defense. We are specialists and experienced in defending Internet-related, white collar, and juvenile crimes in Orange County.
Jeremy N. Goldman is a distinguished criminal defense attorney and trial lawyer. He has over 22 years of experience in the Orange County juvenile justice system and a track record of successfully defending Internet and violent crime cases, often getting charges dismissed or winning acquittals after jury trial. He is certified as a specialist in criminal law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization. Get a no-cost consultation on any criminal matter or on expunging your record. Call 949-387-6670 today or contact us online by email here.
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