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Cyberstalking as a Form of Domestic Violence in California

Posted on in Domestic Violence

San Jose domestic abuse defense attorneyAlmost everyone “goes online” these days for one reason or another. Sometimes it is to research a topic, or simply to peruse a friend’s or family member’s photos on social media sites. However, sometimes crimes can be committed over the Internet via electronic devices such as mobile phones or computers. Whether these crimes are intentional or unintentional, the consequences can be serious. Domestic violence is not limited to just crimes involving physical violence or assault; it includes a wide range of criminal acts. In California, several statutes address domestic violence crimes that are committed electronically. 

California Stalking Laws

Stalking, in its simplest form, is repeatedly following, harassing, and/or threatening another person with the intent to cause the other person to fear for his or her own safety. California stalking laws are considered some of the harshest and most inclusive in the country.

In recent years, the state’s stalking law has been broadened to include “cyberstalking.” When threats or harassment occur via the Internet, text messages, email, or any social media site, the defendant can be charged under the California Penal Code. A few examples of actions or behavior that can lead to stalking charges in California include:

  • Sending emails to an ex threatening to make his or her life miserable;
  • Following a coworker home from work while also making menacing comments to him or her in the office; and
  • Frequently sending gifts to an acquaintance, or repeatedly asking to go out on a date and threatening to retaliate if the person does not agree to the date.

Domestic violence is defined as abuse or threats of abuse two people who have been in an intimate relationship or are closely related by marriage or blood. Cyberstalking is considered a domestic violence crime when the target of the electronic threats or harassment is a former or current spouse, cohabitant, girlfriend, boyfriend, or a child’s parent. Therefore, the defendant would be subject to mandatory sentencing for domestic violence under California law. 

Penalties for Cyberstalking

The prosecution can try a stalking offense as either a misdemeanor or a felony. When special circumstances apply, such as a prior stalking conviction, it has to be charged as a felony. Maximum penalties for a felony stalking conviction in California can include up to five years in state prison and possibly a requirement that the accused register as a sex offender.

In addition, under California law, it is illegal to participate in indirect harassment of another individual. This occurs when an offender posts identifying or personal details about another person online with the intent that strangers will threaten or harass the victim online.

Defenses to Stalking Charges

Stalking is a very serious charge, but it is often based on false accusations made out of revenge or other spiteful motives. There are several legal defenses that may be available to help someone beat or reduce stalking charges. Some of these include threats that are non-credible and the First Amendment right to free speech.

As with any criminal charge, the prosecution must prove stalking beyond a reasonable doubt. Following are some instances when a charge of stalking may be dismissed:

  • The prosecution failed to prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt;
  • The victim lied about what happened;
  • The victim mistakenly or intentionally identified the wrong person as the offender;
  • A reasonable person would not have been fearful of the threat;
  • The threat could not be reasonably or realistically executed; or
  • The accused was exercising his or her First Amendment right.

Contact a Milpitas Criminal Defense Attorney

Many people use the Internet and social media on a daily basis. The majority of this use is for good reasons, but in some cases, an individual can cause unintentional harm to another person through negative comments or threats made online. If you or someone you know is facing cyberstalking charges, it is similar to a domestic violence accusation. The Law Offices of Erik Steven Johnson can help prepare an appropriate defense to help clear your name and record.  Contact a knowledgeable San Jose, CA domestic violence lawyer at 408-246-3004 today to schedule a free consultation. 



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