The internet is now woven into the fabric of everyday life, making electronic communication commonplace an easy way to stay in touch with others. However, not all communications via the internet or on social media are wanted – and some may, in fact, be a crime.
A Rowlett man recently pleaded guilty to cyberstalking charges that resulted in the death of his ex-girlfriend. The couple were in a bitter custody dispute that led him to stalk her through electronic means and ultimately shooting and stabbing her to death.
This is an extreme case, but it illustrates why the federal government takes cyberstalking so seriously.
Here is what you need to understand about the nature of crimes such as cyberstalking – and what types of consequences you can face in federal court if you are found guilty of it.
Federal Law: Cyberstalking
Under federal law, it’s illegal for anyone to engage in conduct via electronic communication that makes someone else reasonably fear that serious bodily harm could come to them or another, or that their life is in jeopardy.
The behaviors in question can also be illegal if they cause substantial emotional distress. However, to qualify as cyberstalking it must be a pattern of behavior, so it must be two or more acts that have occurred, suggesting the perpetrator will continue their behavior.
To be considered federal cyberstalking, the behavior must have been carried out with the purpose of harassing, injuring, killing, intimidating, or surveilling another with the intent to do any of the aforementioned behaviors.
Examples of Cyberstalking
So, what types of behaviors specifically can be charged as cyberstalking? Going through someone’s social media or searching for someone online isn’t considered cyberstalking. However, these types of actions are:
- Making threats of harm against a person or someone to whom they are close
- Sending another person unwanted or frightening messages
- Spreading rumors online about someone else
- Constantly sending unwanted items or gifts to someone else
Even if the events being threatened never escalate to doing physical harm to the victim, you can still be found guilty of cyberstalking under federal law. The court has the latitude to impose a range of penalties depending on the harm suffered by the victim.
If the death of the victim resulted from cyberstalking, then a person can face life in federal prison. If life-threatening injuries or disfigurement are the results, then a person can go to federal prison for up to 20 years.
If convicted, a cyberstalking charge will go on your permanent criminal record, which can have an impact on your future, including future employment and housing opportunities.
Federal charges are serious, including federal cyberstalking charges. Whether you’ve engaged in the conduct of which you’ve been accused or not, it’s important to make sure you have an experienced attorney on your side. Remember, you have rights even when accused of a crime. You need a lawyer who not only knows the law but also can help you to understand the charges against you and your rights, helping you to develop a robust defense.