Does California Have a Cyberstalking Law?
You might hear the term cyberstalking thrown around in casual conversation to refer to instances when someone looking through another person's socials without the other individual’s knowledge. It’s usually used jokingly. However, cyberstalking has a very real and serious side. In some cases, the behavior can turn malicious and create fear, intimidation, and other negative feelings in the person it is targeted against. California prohibits this conduct under its stalking laws and imposes harsh penalties upon anyone convicted.
Are you facing charges for an internet crime? At the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C., we deliver aggressive defense for clients in Santa Rosa. Schedule a consultation by calling us at (707) 418-5352 or contacting us today.
What Does Cyberstalking Consist Of?
Cyberstalking, as a criminal offense, consists of using the internet or other electronic means to harass another person.
The communication can be done through:
- Text messages,
- Social media comments,
- Direct messages,
- Email, and
- Other electronic forms of communication.
The actor typically engages in the behavior deliberately and persistently to annoy or harass someone. Sometimes, the acts can be minor and cause a slight upset in the targeted person. Still, some cyberstalking cases are severe and disturbing and can lead to serious feelings of fear, stress, anxiety, or worry.
Does California Prohibit Cyberstalking?
Yes, California makes it illegal for anyone to engage in a course of conduct that causes fear, annoyance, or terror. A course of conduct includes any action occurring two or more times over a certain period, regardless of how brief, that is likely to continue.
The state does not have a separate cyberstalking law. The elements of the offense are the same as those for traditional (or in-person) stalking. The statute includes online forms of stalking by having a provision stating that written credible threats include those made through electronic communication.
Electronic communication devices include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Cell phones,
- Computers, and
- Video recorders.
Under California Penal Code § 646.9, stalking (and cyberstalking) consists of willful and malicious:
- Repetitive following, or
- Harassment involving credible threats.
Behavior is considered harassing when it consists of doing something repeatedly to someone that causes serious alarm or annoyance or torments or terrorizes the individual. Additionally, the conduct has no other reason than to disturb the targeted individual.
A threat is credible when it makes the person it’s directed at feel reasonable fear for the safety of themselves or others.
Examples of cyberstalking include:
- Leaving threatening comments on someone’s social media posts
- Sending offensive messages through text or direct message
- Writing posts that intimidate or humiliate the targeted person
In addition to a cyberstalking law, California also has an online harassment statute (California Penal Code § 653.2). It prohibits indirect forms of cyber harassment. The law says that it is illegal for a person to electronically distribute personal information about someone (i.e., photos, videos, or messages) to cause a third party to make unwanted contact, injury, or harassment to the targeted person. In other words, one person can’t post or send information about someone else to make other people engage in malicious behavior against that individual.
For the conduct to violate the law, the initiator of the original communication must have acted with the intent to cause the targeted person to reasonably fear for the safety of themselves or their immediate family.
How Cyberstalking Is Penalized
Generally, cyberstalking is a misdemeanor. It is punishable by imprisonment in county jail for no more than 1 year and a fine of not more than $1,000. Cyber harassment carries the same penalties.
For cyberstalking, if the actor had a restraining order rendered in their name prohibiting certain contact against the targeted individual, the offense becomes a felony. The potential penalties include imprisonment for 2, 3, or 4 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Cyberstalking is also a felony if the actor has been convicted of domestic violence or violating a restraining order. In that case, the possible punishments include a prison sentence of 2, 3, or 5 years.
Get Started on Your Defense
When cyberstalking involves malicious, unwanted, and fear-causing actions against an individual, the state takes it seriously. If you are accused, you could face imprisonment, fines, and other sanctions. But an accusation is not a conviction, and you can fight the allegations to seek a favorable outcome. Allow a criminal defense attorney to help.
To speak with our Santa Rosa lawyer at the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C., please contact us at (707) 418-5352 today.