What is Cyberstalking?
As classified by California Penal Code 646.9 PC (stalking laws), cyberstalking occurs when someone stalks another individual through an “electronic communication device.” This form of online harassment leads the victim to fear for their safety because of threatening messages sent over the internet. Modes of such communication include texts, e-mails, online messaging platforms, video messages, and other methods achieved through the internet. Examples of cyberstalking are unwanted messages with explicit texts or photos and posting humiliating information or photos of the victim on the internet.
How Does the Prosecution Prove Cyberstalking Occurred?
There are four elements that must be proven by the prosecution in order to be convicted of cyberstalking. First, the defendant must have harassed the victim with malicious intent. Second, there must have been a credible threat made by the defendant against the victim. Third, the victim must have felt as though they or their family is in fear of their safety. Fourth, the credible threat of harassment must have been communicated using an electronic communication device.
Penalties for Cyberstalking
If the four elements are proven, then the defendant faces a wobbler offense. Based on the context of the crime and past criminal convictions of the defendant, the conviction can either be a misdemeanor or a felony. If facing a misdemeanor conviction, the defendant can expect one year in a county jail along with paying a fine at a maximum of $1,000. However, if the offense is increased to a felony conviction, the defendant must spend up to five years in a California state prison facility and pay the previously mentioned fine. An important note is that if convicted of felony cyberstalking, the defendant may also have to register as a sex offender if the harassment was a “result of sexual compulsion or for sexual gratification.”