How Can a Cyberbullying Attorney From My Rights Law Help Me?
If you have been charged with a cyberbullying in California, then you should contact a cyber crimes lawyer at My Rights Law. When you hire My Rights Law, you get a firm with substantial experience in winning cases. We will clarify your legal options and aggressively defend you. Call My Rights Law at (888) 702-8882 or contact us through our secure web form to set up a free consultation.
While there is no specific law that targets “cyberbullying” or online bullying in California, there are numerous sections of the California Penal Code and the California Educational Code that prohibit cyber harassment, exploitation, threats, and other bullying behaviors. Essentially, in California, the term “cyberbullying” is an umbrella term under which these more specific infractions are broadly categorized.
If you are facing any charges related to bullying behavior, it is important to understand the specific crimes of which you have been accused. Without this understanding, you cannot hope to build the strongest possible legal defense on your behalf. Working with a law firm who has extensive experience defending against the specific charges you’re facing is critical to ensuring that you’re in the best possible position to refute these charges effectively.
Indirect Electronic Harassment – Penal Code 653.2
Cyberbullying crimes require specific intent. This means that prosecutors of cyberbullying crimes are required not only to prove that a defendant took specific actions but that they intended to produce a certain outcome because of those actions. For example, someone cannot be convicted of indirect electronic harassment – also commonly referred to as cyber harassment or online harassment – unless they had the intent to make the victim of the offense reasonably fear for their personal safety or the safety of their immediate family.
With that intent, the defendant must have used an electronic device to distribute, publish, email, hyperlink – or otherwise make available for download – some of the victim’s personal information (this might be through social media sites). This information must have been made available with the perpetrator’s intent to imminently cause the victim unwanted harassment, injury, or unwanted physical contact to which the victim did not consent. This section of the California Penal Code defines harassment as “seriously” alarming, annoying, tormenting, or terrorizing the victim in ways that serve no legitimate purpose.
The electronic communication may or may not contain digital images of the victim or another person and may or may not contain harassing text. Regardless of the exact nature of the harassment itself, if it meets the criteria described above, such harassment is classified as a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
For the purposes of this crime – and virtually any other cyberbullying crime punishable under California law, an infraction doesn’t necessarily need to take place on the Internet. The “electronic devices” referenced in the California Penal Code range from smartphones to fax machines and from video recorders to pagers.
Direct Electronic Harassment – Penal Code 646.9
More serious than cyber harassment is the crime of cyberstalking. The general definition of harassment carries over to this section of the Penal Code, but the intent and actions connected with that generalized harassing conduct are different. To be convicted of cyberstalking, it must be proven that an offender willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly followed or harassed a victim. This conduct must have also created a credible threat with the intent to place the victim in reasonable fear for their safety or the safety of their immediate family.
If none of the exceptions outlined below apply to this conduct, cyberstalking is classified as a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. What makes this crime more serious than indirect electronic harassment (cyber harassment) is that offenders can be incarcerated in state prison instead of county jail, and this conduct can be alternatively classified as a felony if certain conditions are met.
Cyberstalking can be classified as a felony if the offender commits the offense when there is a restraining order, injunction, or court order in effect that expressly prohibits this conduct against the specific victim of the stalking. If convicted, offenders may be incarcerated in state prison for between two and four years. Offenders who are convicted of cyberstalking after committing other specific offenses may face incarceration in state prison for between two and five years. Additionally, offenders that meet certain criteria may be ordered to register as sex offenders.
Cyber Exploitation – Penal Code 647(j)(4)
Distinct from the “harassment offenses” under the general cyberbullying umbrella is the offense of cyber exploitation. Commonly referred to as “revenge porn,” cyber exploitation also requires specific intent. To be convicted of cyber exploitation, an offender must intentionally distribute – via electronic means – a specific kind of image. The offender must also either know or should know that distribution of these images would cause the victim serious emotional distress.
The images in question must have been taken under circumstances that the offender and victim – or the victim and others involved – either agreed or understood that the images would remain private. The images must contain an intimate body part or parts of at least one identifiable person, or they must contain an image of the victim depicted as engaged in or participating in the act of sexual intercourse, oral copulation, or masturbation.
If convicted of this misdemeanor, an offender may face up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If the offender has previously been convicted of posting revenge porn or the victim in question is a minor, the penalties associated with this conduct may increase.
Threats – Penal Code 422
When criminal threats are made via electronic means, these threats are a form of cyberbullying. Under California law, it is a crime to willfully threaten to commit a criminal offense that would result in either death or great bodily injury to another. Before someone can be convicted of making criminal threats, it must be proven that they specifically intended for the statement – whether made verbally, via an electronic device, or in writing – to be interpreted as a threat.
An offender can be convicted of this criminal offense even if they have no means by which to carry out their threats. If the threat is conveyed in ways that can be characterized as so specific, unequivocal, immediate, and unconditional that the person threatened can understand the grave purpose of the offender and the immediate prospect that the threat could be executed, even a threat that cannot be carried out can meet the criteria of this criminal offense. The victim must be reasonably inspired by sustained fear for their personal safety or the safety of their immediate family for the criminal element of this crime to be complete.
If convicted of this offense, a perpetrator faces possible imprisonment in county jail for up to one year or possible imprisonment in state prison, depending on whether the offense is prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony.
California Education Code Infractions
Numerous California Education Code sections define bullying in ways that encompass acts of cyber harassment, exploitation, and threats. If students are convicted of a cyberbullying offense, public school officials are authorized to suspend those students and are empowered to recommend that those students be expelled.
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