Stalking is a serious offense, and requires relatively serious conduct to become illegal. In the eyes of the law, there is usually little difference between “cybercrime” and traditional crime. In many contexts, the laws governing traditional crime have been adapted or updated to apply to crimes committed online. With regard to “cyber-harassment,” there is even a specific statute governing the online version of the crime.
The Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych have put together this guide to explain the details surrounding cyber stalking. If you or a loved one has been charged with an internet crime anywhere in South Jersey, talk to an experienced internet crime defense attorney. Our lawyers offer free consultations on new cases to get your case started.
Social Media Stalking and Harassment
Stalking and harassment are two closely linked crimes that punish repeated communications and other acts that frighten or annoy the victim. There are various levels of the offense so that only the most severe forms of harassment and stalking are punished with the most severe penalties.
The lowest level of these harassment crimes a “petty disorderly persons offense.” This type of offense is the lowest level of offense in New Jersey, punished by a maximum of six months in jail and a $500 fine. The conduct for this offense is found in N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-4 subsections (a) through (c), which punish the any of the following:
- Making or causing a communication that is likely to cause annoyance or alarm, when the communication:
- Is anonymous,
- Is “at extremely inconvenient hours,”
- Is “in offensively coarse language,” or
- Is made in any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.
- Striking, kicking, shoving, or otherwise offensively touching someone (or threatening to do so).
- Engaging in any “course of alarming conduct” or repeatedly committing acts intended to “alarm or seriously annoy” someone.
The more serious form of harassment is found in N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-4(e). This is a fourth degree crime, punishable by up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000. This is clearly more serious, but applies in very limited circumstances. This upgrades any of the above harassment offenses to a fourth degree crime if committed while in prison, on parole, or on probation as a punishment for committing another crime. If you or a loved one has been charged with any of the above crimes, it is extremely important to contact an experienced NJ internet crimes defense attorney.
Stalking under N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-10 is also a fourth degree crime punished with up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000. Under some circumstances, it is upgraded to a third degree crime punished by three to five years in prison and fines up to $15,000. The general conduct for a stalking crime is purposely or knowingly engaging “in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his safety or the safety of a third person,” or otherwise to suffer emotional distress.
Some features of this definition are vital. First, it uses an objective, reasonable standard – if the target of the actions is especially paranoid, the actions may not be illegal. Lastly, the target of the stalking and the target of the actual course of conduct can be different, e.g. a woman can be the victim of stalking if the stalker sends her threats against her mother’s safety.
This is upgraded to a third degree crime if it violates an existing court order, is a second or further offense against the same target, or is committed while in prison, on parole, or on probation for another crime.
Cyber Stalking and Cyber Harassment
These laws are written flexibly to apply to a number of scenarios. There is no required method of communication, and no requirement of personal, physical encounters. This means that any conduct that violates these laws can still be punished, even if it is done over the internet.
This means that repeated communications on Facebook that put someone in fear might be harassment. Continued replies on every social media post that threaten the poster or a third party could also be stalking. No matter how the crime is committed, whether in person, over the phone, or over social media, the crime is equally serious.
New Jersey’s N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-4.1 was added specifically to address the concerns around cyber harassment. This offense makes it illegal to use harassing online communications “via any electronic device or through a social networking site” to do any of the following:
- Threaten physical harm to any person or property;
- Send, post, comment, request, suggest, or propose “any lewd, indecent, or obscene material to or about a person,” intending to emotionally harm them; or
- Threaten to commit any other crime.
This is a fourth degree crime. If the actor is over the age of 21, but pretends to be a minor when committing this crime, it is upgraded to a third degree crime.
Atlantic City Criminal Defense Attorney
These offenses are very serious, and can lead to jail time and high fines in any case. For a free consultation on your harassment or stalking charges, talk to an South Jersey defense attorney at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych. Call (609) 616-4956 today to schedule a free, confidential consultation on your charges.