California’s stalking law, Penal Code 646.9 (PC), prohibits the intentional, malicious, and repetitive following or harassing of another person paired with a credible threat. A subset of the overall stalking law covers cyberstalking performed on an electronic device like a computer or cell phone. If you have been accused of online harassment or stalking in San Diego, please contact attorney Peter M. Liss as soon as possible.
Cyberstalking Laws in California
Cyberstalking falls under the same general law as other forms of stalking, but these activities involve an electronic means of communication, including email, phone calls, faxes, texts, social media, forums, chat rooms, and more. Some forms of cyberstalking include cyberbullying through posting humiliating information about the victim, sharing their personal information in a doxing attack, or impersonating them online to damage their reputation when these activities are done in conjunction with a credible threat. In some cases, cyberstalking may involve harassing or threatening an ex-partner, making it a form of domestic violence. Sometimes, cyberstalking can be paired with other computer crimes, such as revenge porn, swatting, or identity theft.
Penalties for Cyberstalking
First-time cyberstalking charges are typically filed as a misdemeanor, punishable for up to one year in county jail. The crime can be charged as a felony though, punishable by up to 5 years in state prison.
Misdemeanor or felony charges may also require the defendant to undergo counseling or even confinement in a mental health facility. If the harassment was for the purposes of sexual gratification or compulsion, a felony offense may even be considered a sex crime, that will result in mandatory registration as a sex offender.
Additionally, if the victim was a romantic partner or ex-intimate partner, the activity is considered a form of domestic violence, meaning the may increase, and you may lose your ability to possess firearms. Similarly, if the victim had a restraining order against the perpetrator, the penalty is likely to be increased. In these cases, the perpetrator may also face additional charges and penalties related to the violation of their restraining order.
Fighting the Charges
Stalking (and subsequently cyberstalking) is defined under California law as willfully and maliciously harassing another person and making a credible threat intending to cause the individual to fear for their safety or the safety of their family. One of the best defenses to this crime is to show that you did not meet all elements of this crime. For example, if you sent a threatening message to a stranger when you meant to send it to a friend (who would recognize the message as a joke), you are not guilty of cyberstalking because the act was not willful or malicious.
Alternatively, if you write that you are going to steal a nuclear warhead from North Korea and blow someone’s entire state off the map, it would not be a criminal act because your threat is unrealistic and, therefore, not credible enough to violate the law.
Another defense may involve arguing that you are not the person who did the cyberstalking (remember, even if you have the IP address of a guilty party, that is not enough to convict you of a crime). You can also argue that the individual is making false allegations and that no cyberstalking actually took place.
Before attempting any defense though, please contact a criminal defense attorney, as it can be very easy to say something that may harm your case in these situations.
Contact a Criminal Lawyer Immediately
If you have been charged with cyberstalking in San Diego, do not say anything to police or prosecutors before first speaking with your attorney. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss.