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When Does Cyberstalking Become a Federal Offense? (PC 646.9)

Cyberstalking is the act of threatening, annoying or harassing someone over the Internet with the intent of intimidating or leading the recipients to believe that they or their loved ones will be injured or harmed. Common types of electronic technologies used for cyberstalking include emails, chat rooms and social networking sites. Experts believe that stalkers, including cyberstalkers, are motivated by a desire to harass victims, get back at them or to work out power and ego issues. State and federal authorities take cyberstalking very seriously because they are viewed as predictors of escalating physical violence.

Federal Cyberstalking Survery

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In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice surveyed 65,000 stalking victims. Respondents were asked if their stalkers had used any form of electronic technology. More than 25 percent of the survey participants answered in the affirmative. Of those respondents, 85 percent – the majority – said they were stalked via email and 35 percent reported their stalker had used instant messaging. In some cases, victims said their stalkers had used multiple means of cyberstalking.

When Cyberstalking Becomes a Federal Offense

There are three major federal laws that apply to cyberstalking:

  • The Interstate Stalking and Prevention Act of 1996 is the broadest of the federal statues in this regard. This federal law makes it a crime for anyone who travels between states or who is in foreign commerce to use the mail, any interactive computer service or any interstate or foreign facility to engage in stalking (18 USC 2661A). Anyone who is convicted of this crime faces up to five years in federal prison and fines.
  • The Interstate Communications Act makes it a federal crime to transmit in interstate commerce, any communication that threatens to injure anyone (18 USC 875(c)). This law particularly refers to the use of telephones, emails and beepers. Any individual who is convicted of this crime faces up to five years in federal prison and fines.
  • The Telephone Harassment Act makes it a crime to knowingly use a telephone or the Internet to transmit an interstate or foreign commerce any message to annoy, abuse, harass or threaten anyone (47 USC 223(a)(1)(C)). A conviction under this federal law could result in up to two years in federal prison and fines.

Consequences of Federal Cyberstalking Charges

Conviction for a federal cyberstalking charge could result in incarceration in a federal prison and other penalties. Any criminal conviction can have long-term consequences. You could lose your job, professional license or you may struggle to reintegrate into your community. Your credibility will most likely take a hit. A criminal conviction could even affect your personal relationships.

Contact an Experienced Defense Lawyer

If you have been accused of cyberstalking, it is important that you contact an experienced California criminal defense lawyer who will review the charges thoroughly, examine the evidence carefully and devise a solid strategy to fight the accusations. Whether you are accused of a state or federal crime, the consequences may be long-term and life changing. It is critical that you seek the guidance of a knowledgeable defense lawyer who will work diligently to obtain the positive outcome in your case.

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