Cyberstalking is in the news after a prominent New Orleans lawyer was charged with the crime for allegedly sending harassing text messages to an opponent.
Stuart Smith, a noted environmental lawyer and the namesake of Loyola University New Orleans College of Law's legal clinic, was charged with misdemeanor cyberstalking for allegedly threatening someone via text message in a dispute over a proposed noise ordinance. If convicted, Smith could face up to one year behind bars and a $2,000 fine, The Times-Picayune reports.
So what exactly is cyberstalking, and how can you get charged with it?
Cyberstalking: Electronic Harassment
Although laws vary from state to state, cyberstalking is generally considered to be a form of criminal harassment committed via the use of electronic communications. This can include e-mail, text messaging, or even social media posts.
A cyberstalking charge typically requires a pattern of harassing conduct intended to cause the victim fear for their or their family's safety. A single harassing message sent via Facebook, for example, probably isn't enough on its own to support a charge of criminal cyberstalking.
Cyberstalking is also sometimes known as cyberbullying when the harassment involves children, although in some states there are specific statutes directed towards curtailing cyberbullying. Generally, the same standard of conduct applies to both cyberstalking and cyberbullying.
Common Forms of Cyberstalking
The alleged threats at issue in Stuart Smith's arrest illustrate one of the most common forms of cyberstalking: sending harassing text messages. You may recall tennis star Jennifer Capriati was also charged with stalking after allegedly sending her boyfriend about 300 text messages.
Another increasingly common form of cyberstalking involves the use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. In one case, a 12-year-old Seattle girl was convicted of felony cyberstalking and sentenced to probation and community service for accessing a classmate's Facebook account and repeatedly posting sexually explicit material on the classmate's profile in an attempt to embarrass her.
In another, more troubling case, singer Billy Joel hired a private investigator to track down the person sending numerous sadistic, sexual, and violent Facebook messages to his daughter. The investigator located the source: a 40-year-old Minnesota woman with a history of mental illness. She was charged with felony stalking as well as misdemeanor stalking via repeating online messages.
If you believe you're the victim of cyberstalking, you'll want to report it to the police as soon as possible. On the other hand, if you've been charged with some form of cyberstalking, you'll want to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer right away.