As the internet and electronic communications have become standard within society, allegations of cyberstalking have become increasingly common. Found in RCW 9.61.260 and a cousin of telephone harassment, the crime of cyberstalking is charged when forms of electronic communication other than the telephone are used to “harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass”. Depending on the circumstances, cyberstalking can either constitute a gross misdemeanor or a felony.
Elements of Cyberstalking
Cyberstalking involves an intent to intimidate or harass another person and falls into three categories. The first is through the use of lewd, obscene or indecent words or images or the suggestion of the commission of a lewd or lascivious act. The second is an anonymous or repeated communication regardless of whether any conversation actually occurs. The third is threats of injury to a person or their property or to the person’s family. When these elements are present, the conduct constitutes a gross misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
When the above elements are satisfied, and the defendant has either previously been convicted of harassment against the victim or the victim’s family, or the behavior is a threat to kill the victim or any other person, the crime is elevated to Class C felony status. As a level III offense, the punishment would be a minimum of 1-3 months in jail but could quickly escalate to prison time if there is a prior felony or domestic violence history.
Forms of Cyber Communication
Under the cyberstalking statute, any form of electronic communication other than telephone contact can trigger this charge. Emails, text messages, messaging apps and contact through various forms of social media are all considered “electronic communication” for the purposes of this statute. Further, the place of the commission of the offense can be considered to be either the place where the transmission was sent or where it was received. That is left to the discretion of law enforcement. Often, law enforcement working in conjunction with the prosecuting authorities will elect to file charges in the stricter jurisdiction, or the jurisdiction that will be least convenient for the accused to defend a case within.
If you believe you are being investigated or have been charged with a cyberstalking offense, do not discuss it with anyone, especially law enforcement, prior to speaking with an attorney. If you have been charged with a cyberstalking offense, believe you are currently under investigation or simply have questions, contact the lawyers at Milios Defense for assistance or to schedule a consultation.