Deciphering California’s Laws on Cyberstalking
In the state of California, laws have been enacted that explicitly criminalize the act of stalking or harassment towards another person or their family members. With the exponential growth of the digital realm, traditional stalking has, alarmingly, found a new home online. This shift to the digital domain has prompted unique challenges for law enforcement across the globe. In an effort to combat this escalating issue, online stalking, also known as cyberstalking, has been declared illegal under Penal Code 646.9 in California. This provision allows stalking or harassment charges to be applied to a defendant engaging in such actions.
Exploring the Facets of Cyberstalking
Prominent personalities and celebrities frequently express their distress over the barrage of hate-filled messages they receive online. Many have voiced that the intensity of negative commentary escalates on social media platforms, primarily due to the perceived cloak of anonymity that these platforms offer. Unfortunately, some individuals exploit this perception and escalate their actions into stalking or harassment.
The act of intentionally harassing a person or their family via electronic means falls under the purview of cyberstalking. The spectrum of electronic means is vast and includes online platforms, video communications, phone calls, text messages, emails, and other forms of digital communication. To successfully prosecute a case of cyberstalking, the prosecution must establish that the defendant deliberately harassed the victim, the harassment constituted a credible threat to the victim or their family’s safety, and the victim or their family were instilled with fear for their safety due to the harassment. Further, it must be proven that the harassment transpired via the previously mentioned digital communication channels.
Understanding the Consequences of Cyberstalking
When an individual is found guilty of cyberstalking, they face what’s known as a “wobbler” offense. This means that depending upon the specifics of the case, online harassment charges may result in either a misdemeanor or a felony conviction. In the instance of a misdemeanor, the convicted individual may face up to one year in county jail and be required to pay specific fines.
However, a felony conviction brings with it harsher penalties. Depending on the details of the case and the individual’s prior criminal history, a felony conviction could result in up to five years in state prison along with a substantial fine. Moreover, given the nature of cyberstalking, the prosecution could potentially level additional charges against the defendant based on the specifics of the harassment.