Cyber Harassment Charges & Penalties in NJ
What it means to be Accused of Cyber Harassment or Cyber Stalking in Ocean County, New Jersey
In this day and age, people spend countless hours online, on computers, and on phones. Based on the prevalence of internet use and social media, the web is like a new stomping ground for criminal offenses. Whether you do or do not know the person you threaten or harass on a social media site or via email or text, you must beware that you could be committing a crime. And crimes in New Jersey have harsh consequences. One such crime, cyber harassment, can end badly for the alleged victim and the person charged with this offense. Sometimes, a person accused of cyber harassment or cyber stalking will face not only criminal charges, but a restraining order as well. If you have been charged with cyber harassment, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4.1, it is vitally important to understand what is on the line in your case and to speak with a criminal defense attorney regarding your best defense.
Contact our Ocean County criminal lawyers if you need assistance with cyber harassment allegations anywhere in the Jersey Shore area. We are able to provide you with a free initial consultation 24/7 by contacting our Point Pleasant office at (848) 238-2100 or sending us a message.
The Statute Criminalizing Cyber Harassment in New Jersey
The governing law in cyber harassment cases (N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4.1). is relatively clear. You are guilty of cyber-harassment if you use the Internet or electronic devices to harass someone. Harassment can be threats to harm someone or their property, sending lewd or indecent messages or materials to another to cause them harm or fear of injury, or threatening to commit a crime that harms another or their property.
The Issue of Intent in Cyber Harassment Cases
The hurdle to prove cyber harassment is proving the defendant’s intention. Since most accused harassers do not admit they intended to harass the victim, the prosecutor must prove intent circumstantially, which may not be easy. And the victim’s testimony about the accused’s intention is not enough. Here is where an excellent criminal defense attorney can often help someone accused of cyber harassment get the charges dismissed. A defense attorney can diminish a prosecutor’s case by introducing evidence of the accused’s intention, not to threaten or harass the other person. Often, people say or write things in anger or somewhat questionable things that could be take to have multiple meanings. A skilled attorney can possibly cast doubt on the prosecutor’s case by clouding the issue of intent.
Grading of NJ Cyber-Harassment Offenses
Ordinarily, cyber harassment is a fourth degree crime when the offender and victim are adults. However, it is a third degree crime when the victim is a minor and the offender is 21 or older. The penalty is steeper for cyber harassment committed against a child. A fourth degree crime conviction could mean an 18-month prison sentence, but a third degree crime might lead to 3-5 years in prison.
Juvenile charges for cyber harassment are different in terms of the consequences. When a minor younger than 16 commits cyber-harassment, a judge may sentence them to take education courses aimed at discouraging cyber-harassment in the future. Education courses show the dangers and consequences of illegal cyber bullying acts that youth may not know since they grew up on the Internet. The juvenile’s parents must ensure their child completes their sentence or, if they fail to complete the sentenced courses, the parents pay fines.
Cyber Bullying and Harassment among Youth Offenders in NJ
Since secondary school students spend a good deal of their lives on the Internet, it is not unusual for teenagers to cyber harass other teenagers online on social media. Middle school and high school are competitive places, with many students vying for status. Sometimes that translates to taking some students down to bolster others up. Groups of students might campaign against another student or students by posting embarrassing photos on Instagram, sending rude messages or tweets on Twitter, or otherwise bullying others. Incidences of youth suicides due to cyber-harassment make the news from time to time.
Domestic Violence Cyber Harassment is Grounds for a Restraining Order in New Jersey
Harassing others through social media, direct messages, or text is not exclusive to teenagers. Young and older adults use electronic means to communicate with others, and where there are relationships, there are bound to be disagreements that lead to sometimes questionable behavior. In fact, cyber harassment between spouses, ex-spouses, dating partners, or household (and former household) members may constitute domestic violence. The Protection Against Domestic Violence Act of New Jersey protects domestic violence victims from crimes between intimate partners that constitute domestic violence. Harassment, cyber harassment, lewdness, assault, sexual assault, aggravated assault, criminal restraint, kidnapping, among others, are crimes justifying a restraining order.
For example, the married couple that separates may become involved in a domestic violence case based on cyber harassment or stalking. The accused spouse may become subject to a restraining order if one spouse intentionally harasses the other by leaving messages, perhaps threatening to kidnap their children or some other dangerous action. Fearing for their safety and that of their children, the harassed spouse may file for a restraining order.
A protective order prohibits the named party from contacting the domestic violence victim, their children, or other household members at home, work, or school. To get a permanent order of protection from the court, the restraining order applicant must prove that the defendant cyber-harassed them and that they need the protective order to avoid further harm. They must also show that the party to be restrained has a pattern of abuse, and this instance is one more instance of abuse. If proven, cyber harassment qualifies as abuse.
Getting out of Jail if Detained for Cyber-Harassment in Toms River NJ
If charged with cyber-harassment in a domestic violence case, a defendant may be detained in jail until a judge decides to release them or keep them in jail until their case is over. New Jersey no longer sets financial bail for release. An experienced criminal defense attorney can also help someone arrested for cyber-harassment and domestic violence get released from jail. At a detention hearing, it is your lawyer’s purpose to show how you as a client are not a flight risk, will attend future hearings, and will not commit crimes pending the trial on their charges. Since the prosecutor may recommend and argue that you stay in jail until the case concludes, you will need a good attorney if the state charges you with cyber harassment and file a motion for detention in your case.
Contact a criminal defense attorney at our office in Ocean County, NJ right away if you have been arrested or charged in a criminal complaint for committing cyber harassment. Free initial consultation, call: (848) 238-2100.
Additional information about New Jersey Computer & Internet Crimes.