Posting harmful information on the internet about someone else is a new-age form of domestic violence crime that affects many people unknowingly. Any type of domestic violence crime in California can lead to severe penalties. To avoid a possible harsh conviction sentence after such allegations, you’ll need services of expert criminal defense attorneys like California Criminal Lawyer Group
Posting Harmful Information on the Internet Overview
According to California’s domestic violence laws, it’s a criminal offense to harm or threaten a household member or intimate partner through coercive or controlling behaviors. Any person can become a victim of domestic violence, whether married or unmarried, dating or simply living together. There are various types of crimes that fall under the umbrella of domestic violence in California.
The crime the prosecutor files in a domestic violence case depends on the nature of abusive acts of the defendant towards their immediate family members or intimate partners. Posting harmful information on the internet about someone else with the motive or intent to welcome third parties to threaten or abuse them is a modern form of domestic violence that affects many internet users.
The criminal offense of posting harmful information on the internet about someone else is also known as indirect cyber-harassment or electronic harassment. Indirect cyber-harassment has become the new order of revenge in intimate or familial relationship disputes. Indirect cyber harassment is a criminal offense as per PEN 653.2 of the California domestic violence law.
In indirect cyber-harassment, the offender uses electronic devices to post or communicate harmful information about another person on the internet, which often incites third parties to harm or harass the respective victim. Many people often confuse indirect cyber-harassment with direct cyber harassment (cyberstalking), which is different. According to penal code 646.9, direct cyber-harassment or cyberstalking happens when the defendant directly harasses or stalks the victim.
For the sake of the California PEN 653.2, the term “harassment” means willfully and knowingly doing specific abusive actions towards another person that any typical or standard person would consider terrorizing, alarming, annoying, or tormenting. Violation of PEN 653.2 is a misdemeanor offense that can lead to imprisonment and hefty fines. You’ll need a criminal defense attorney to help you understand your legal rights during that frustrating moment and defend you from the possible conviction.
The Relationship Between Domestic Violence and Posting Harmful Information on the Internet
Indirect cyber harassment is a form of domestic violence crime that affects many intimate partners and family members nowadays because the internet is available within reach of everyone's hands. Most people who participate in this form of domestic violence crime are often seeking revenge after disputes or sour arguments.
According to penal code 13700 on domestic violence, it’s a crime to commit any form of abuse to an intimate partner or family member through the willful or intentional use of fear or physical force to the person. In indirect cyber harassment, it’s not the defendant harassing or causing imminent unwanted physical contact to the victim. Instead, it is the other third party who accesses the harmful information on the internet after the defendant made it available for them to access so that they can harass or threaten the victim. Domestic violence is not only limited to actions that lead to physical harm. Indirect cyber harassment is a form of emotional abuse because it deflates the victim's self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
Elements of the Crime of Posting of Harmful Information on the Internet
If you post a humorous post with the intent to make a joke and someone misunderstands the information, you will not be guilty if the prosecutor cannot prove specific aspects of crime in the offense. The prosecutor must demonstrate to the judge particular elements of this crime for you to be guilty of the violation of penal code 653.2. Below are elements of crime in an indirect cyber-harassment lawsuit as per penal code 653.2 of the California domestic violence law:
The Defendant Used an Electronic Device to Send or Post Harassing Information
The use of electronic devices is the first element of an indirect cyber-harassment crime. The prosecutor must demonstrate to the jury that the defendant is guilty of the violation of penal code 653.2. Two aspects of this crime appear in this element: the use of electronic devices and harassment. An electronic device can be either of the following:
- Telephones/cell phones
- Video recorders
- Fax machine
- Internet websites
The defendant can use the above electronic devices to hyperlink, email, publish, communicate, or distribute harassing information about a family member or intimate partner. Harassment through electronic means of communication happens when:
- You intentionally send or share another person’s information that is alarming and terrorizing to the extent of causing fear.
- You send and post another person’s information without their consent.
- Posting and distributing of the harmful information lead to harassment by a third party after access to the information
The Other Person Didn’t Have Consent That You Will be Sharing or Distributing the Information
Posting certain information on the internet about someone else without their consent is a violation of their legal rights. The court will find the defendant guilty for indirect cyber-harassment if the victim had not given the authorization or permission to post or distribute it.
The Defendant’s Actions Were Intentional
The defendant would be guilty for indirect cyber-harassment if he/she were posting and distributing the other person’s information to cause rational fear for safety or life to the victim or his/her immediate family. Therefore, any additional information in that context that does not portray that the defendant had the intent to cause reasonable fear to the victim does not count as enough evidence to convict the defendant for violation of penal code 653.2.
The Defendant Purpose to Cause Harassment or Unwanted Bodily Contact Was Achieved
If the victim or target person acknowledges that he/she got some injuries, harassment, or unwanted bodily contact because of the defendant's actions, only then would the defendant be guilty of indirect cyber-harassment under California penal 653.2. The prosecutor must prove to the jury that the offender's purpose to cause reasonable fear or harm to the victim was a success after he/she made the victim's private information available on the internet for third-party access.
Penalties for Violation of California Penal Code 653.2
The penalties defendants of indirect cyber-harassment receive depend on the severity of the offender’s case and criminal history. Below are potential penalties the judge can impose for indirect cyber-harassment crime:
Misdemeanor Summary Probation
Misdemeanor summary probation is a suitable penalty for violation of penal code 653.2. It’s also known as informal probation, where victims of misdemeanor offenses like indirect cyber-harassment serve their sentence under the supervision of the court. Informal probation or summary probations sentence period is between one to three years.
The judge can choose to modify the sentence by adding two more years to the sentence if the defendant violates the summary probation conditions. As part of the misdemeanor summary probation conditions, the defendant must regularly report to the probation officer, pay restitution to the victim, or attend counseling.
Fine and Jail Sentence
Indirect cyber harassment penalties also include a jail sentence and fine, depending on the severity of the harassment to the respective victim. The defendant will serve a maximum of a one-year sentence in the county jail. The judge can also choose to impose a fine of up to $1,000 on top of the jail sentence or not depending on the circumstances surrounding the defendant’s offense.
Posting of humorous comments on the internet sometimes can be misunderstood. When that happens, innocent people get a wrongful conviction for a crime they did not commit. Hiring a criminal defense attorney should be your first step after an arrest before answering any police or investigators’ questions. Your criminal defense attorney will protect you from unnecessary long conviction sentences and hefty fines.
Posting Harmful Information on the Internet Legal Defenses in California
Your attorney will play a crucial role in protecting your legal rights in indirect cyber-harassment allegations. A reliable criminal defense attorney will raise particular legal arguments against the criminal elements that the prosecutor presents to the jury to find a weakness in the prosecutor’s evidence. Below are exceptional legal defenses a criminal defense attorney can use to reduce or dismiss charges on indirect cyber-harassment:
False allegations and accusations are always possible in criminal lawsuits; hence you can always defend yourself by arguing innocence on the charges with the help of a criminal defense attorney. The defendant can argue that he did not post or distribute any information on the internet with criminal intent towards the victim.
Denying the false accusations on indirect cyber harassment is a viable legal defense on this particular type of crime. Many people assume there isn’t much evidence needed to convict a victim for such a crime. The burden of proof is in your criminal defense attorney’s hands. It will demonstrate to the jury above any reasonable doubt that you didn’t post any harmful information about the victim.
Although intoxication is not always a wise idea in legal defense on criminal offenses, it will only be viable if it is unintentional or involuntary, making you unconscious. Suppose you were not in your right state of mind when you were posting the harmful information about the respective victim. In that case, you should not be guilty of indirect cyber-harassment because you were unconscious as a result of the involuntary intoxication. Involuntary intoxication would not be a viable legal defense if the defendant intoxicated him/her self voluntarily.
Police sometimes use unbearable methods to false the defendants to confess crimes they did not commit, which can lead to a wrongful conviction if the defendant has no proper legal representation. Coercion or improper interrogation by police happens when they do the following:
- Keep asking questions about the case even after requesting to speak to an attorney
- Threaten to harm or beat you if you do not confess the wrongdoings
- Use fake promises to get your confession by promising you leniency
- Deprive the defendant of water and food
According to studies and research, the above tactics of coercion can be unbearable at some point, making the defendant admit a crime he/she is not liable. This legal defense is viable, but your criminal defense attorney must also prove to the jury that you had no criminal intent when you were posting another person’s information on the internet.
Lack of Intent
Humorous posts or comments on the internet can get misunderstood. Your prosecutor must demonstrate to the jury how your actions of indirect cyber-harassment were of criminal intent towards the victim even before you did the acts. Further, if there is no criminal intent in the context of the information the defendant made available on the internet, he/she should not be guilty of this criminal offense. Harmful information on the internet as per California penal code 653.2 PC, is the information that threatens and causes reasonable fear to the respective victim.
Police Misconduct and Duress
Police misconduct is not uncommon in many criminal allegations in California. Police misconduct happens when they conduct an unlawful search in your house and fails to ask you relevant questions concerning the case. Duress is a powerful and significant method of coercion that involves people with higher power/authority, for example, police officers.
Duress in indirect cyber-harassment case happens when people with higher authority coerce the defendant into posting or communicating certain information about his/her immediate family members or spouse for their self-interests. The court will recognize this means of criminal defense if there are some aspects of threats or blackmail in the context of the information in the indirect cyber-harassment offense.
Common Criminal Offenses Relating to Indirect Cyber Harassment
There are several criminal offenses relating to indirect cyber harassment, which the prosecutor can choose to file alongside the crime or independently, depending on the evidence available. Below are crimes relating to indirect cyber harassment that you need to beware of:
California cyberstalking laws make it a criminal offense to maliciously and willfully harass another individual by use of significant threats enough to make the person or his/her immediate family fear for their safety or life. For the sake of California anti-stalking laws, stalking is not always about physical contact where a person follows another around. Electronic devices like computers or phones to threaten or harass people are also a crime as per penal code 646.9.
Violation of penal code 646.9 is a misdemeanor offense in California; however, the prosecutor can file the charges as a felony if the offender is not obeying the court protection order against the victim. It will also be a felony offense if the defendant has prior criminal history on his/her record. Penalties for this crime as a misdemeanor offense can lead to a one-year jail term in the county penitentiary and a fine amounting up to $10,000. Felony charges on this crime will lead to a conviction of a maximum of five years in the state prison.
According to penal code 422, it is a criminal offense to use any type of electronic device such as cell phones to threaten a person or any member of their family by putting them in reasonable fear of physical harm or death. Unlike indirect cyber harassment, making criminal threats towards another person through electronic devices is a crime regardless of whether the defendant had the intent to make the threat or not. Even if the defendant cannot physically commit the threats because of physical disability, he/she can still be guilty of the violation of California threats laws under penal code 422.
Making criminal threats to another person is a wobbler criminal offense which the prosecutor can charge as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances or nature of the threats and the defendant’s conviction history. If the defendant receives misdemeanor charges, he/she is likely to pay a fine of up to $1,000 and serve a maximum of one year in the county penitentiary.
On the other hand, if the conviction is a felony, the defendant will serve three years in the state prison and pay a fine amounting to a maximum of $10,000. The defendant can also get additional sentencing enhancements of one in year jail term in the state penitentiary if he/she was using a deadly weapon to communicate threats to the victim.
Annoying Phone Texts, Emails or Calls
If the prosecutor lacks enough evidence to convict the defendant for indirect cyber-harassment crime, he/she can choose to submit another charge for violation of penal code 653m. California penal code 653m makes it a crime to do either of the following:
- Make phones calls, send text messages or emails in a threatening way
- Make any type of repetitive communication with intent/motive to harass or annoy the other person
Violation of penal code 653m will lead to a six months imprisonment and a penalty fine amounting to $1,000. As an alternative to the prison sentence, the defendant can also get a probation sentence, which will require him/her to enroll for counseling as part of the probation conditions.
Trolling involves posting of inappropriate or inflammatory comments on the internet with an intent to provoke or upset the user for a response. When trolling on the internet becomes extreme through bullying, harassment, or threats, there are several other criminal offenses the prosecutor can file against the notorious defendant who has crossed the tolerable line with internet trolling. Although trolling is not a criminal offense by itself, the defendant might be guilty under California defamation laws, also known as privacy laws, if he/she posts or communicates inappropriate information about another person, which affects or will affect the victim’s reputation.
California penal code 647j4 PC closely relates to indirect cyber-harassment because most victims of these two crimes are always trying to seek revenge against their intimate partners after disputes or disagreements. Penal code 647j4 makes it a crime to participate in revenge porn since the year 2013.
You engage in this crime if you intentionally post sexual videos or pictures of another person, which was supposed to be private between you two with intent to cause emotional distress to the respective victim. Under California law, revenge porn is a criminal misdemeanor offense, which can lead to a maximum of six months jail term for first-time offenders.
Factors to Take into Consideration When Searching for a Reliable Attorney for Legal Representation on Indirect Cyber Harassment Charges
Every criminal conviction case can negatively affect your reputation in the future, especially if you’re seeking job opportunities. Below are exceptional factors you should consider when looking for a criminal defense lawyer after allegations on indirect cyber-harassment:
Experience and Expertise
Not every criminal defense attorney you find has the skills to defend victims of indirect cyber harassment. Therefore, when choosing a reliable criminal defense attorney for legal representation, you must ensure the professional you settle for is a specialist on this specific form of domestic violence crime. Further, he/she should also have significant experience in this line of duty because laws and procedures that apply in court for this form of domestic violence crime are similar. Experience with different clients facing indirect cyber-harassment allegations makes the attorney more familiar with viable legal defenses to win the case.
Communications Skills and Courtesy
Courteousness and good communication skills are an essential requirement that every attorney should possess because their work involves interaction with other people. In court, you should expect a back and forth type of communication, which requires an attentive person with excellent communication skills to keep up with the conversations going on.
Additionally, for a comfortable relationship with your attorney through the whole prosecution process, you must ensure the specialist is respectful, friendly, and courteous. It is more comfortable to disclose your secrets or private information with a courteous expert, which will be useful in building evidence against the allegations.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Posting harmful information on the internet (indirect cyber-harassment) can lead to a criminal conviction under California domestic violence laws or other related laws. We invite you to contact the California Criminal Lawyer Group if you’re facing charges for indirect cyber-harassment for professional legal representation. You can reach us at 408-622-0204 and connect with our attorneys after allegations of posting harmful information on the internet.