New Jersey Cyber Harassment Offenses 2C:33-4.1
Edison NJ Lawyers Defending Clients Charged with Cyber Harassment and Cyber Bullying
Cyber harassment is one of those crimes one never suspects is a crime since most people are used to communicating freely online in emails, texts, and social media. In fact, the internet seems as if there are virtually no boundaries limiting what people can write or say about or in response to statements, reviews, offerings, product overviews, personal relationships, and other people’s views. Everyone has an opinion about what exists online and sometimes tempers flare in heated debates, personal disagreements, or relationship breakups. However, in the recent decades of cyberbullying, online harassment, cyber-stalking, and extortionist threats using images or language to subject victims to hatred, economic losses, and emotional distress, states like New Jersey have met the rising internet crimes with laws that tackle each of these types of behaviors intended to harm others. Minors are particularly susceptible to online dangers, not only from other minors from school or extracurricular activities, but strangers, including adults. Stories abound about the middle school boy who was bullied until he committed suicide or the high school girl who had to leave school after a naked photo of her was circulated by a vengeful student. To address the reality that minors spend an inordinate amount of time on the internet and are therefore highly vulnerable to harassment and bullying, New Jersey enacted the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights in 2011 to prevent harassment, intimidation, and bullying in schools.
In the same vein, laws have been enacted to govern other types of illegal online activity for adults as well. Given the wide latitude to comment and post on too many social media platforms, along with the ease with which people communicate over phones, tablets, and computers, New Jersey broadly addressed internet behavior amounting to harassment, which is frightening and harmful behavior to others or the threat of same, like persistently contacting someone with threats of injury, abusive language, or obscene and illicit material that would make a reasonable person fear for themselves. And while most would agree that breaking up over text or email with someone you have been dating or in a long-term relationship with is bad form from a decency perspective, it is potentially even worse from a legal standpoint if things go from cordial to threatening or potentially harmful. Contact our law office in Edison for a free consultation at (732) 659-9600 if you have been charged with cyber harassment, cyber stalking, bullying, or a revenge porn offense. We defend clients everywhere in Middlesex County, NJ, including Metuchen, Piscataway, New Brunswick, Woodbridge, East Brunswick, Monroe, and South Brunswick.
How New Jersey Defines Cyber Harassment
Under any circumstances, acts that qualify under New Jersey’s cyber harassment law N.J.S.A 2C:33-4.1 may lead to criminal charges against you or someone you love. Juveniles are frequently charged with this offense, but accusations of bullying someone or harassing them online can happen to anyone at any age. Cyber harassment occurs when a person contacts another person online to threaten them with bodily harm, property destruction, or other crime. It includes sending obscene or indecent messages in any form with the intention to harm or create fear of emotional or physical harm to another person. However, the perception of harm must be one a reasonable person would understand as injurious or a threat of injury.
The crux of cyber harassment is the intent to do harm. In other words, a person who sends something offensive to another person, say an obscene picture or meme, without the intent to harm the other, does not commit cyber harassment. On the other hand, a person who sends obscene material to another person knowing the picture would cause the other emotional harm, they are guilty of the crime.
What is an Example of Cyber Harassment?
An example may be when an ex-lover sends you a photo of you drunk and making obscene gestures, threatening to publish the photo to your family, friends, and co-workers, knowing that would cause you embarrassment, humiliation, and ostracization, along with the potential to be fired from your job. Moreover, other types of harassment may include threatening words online, say, in a heated debate on a social media site, like Facebook. Where someone threatens to harm another, it is no defense that the words are protected by the First Amendment. Free speech protection does not include placing another in fear of imminent danger or criminal acts. So, if a person is posting or messaging on social media, they should not expect to be given a pass if their words toward someone else cross the line from protected speech to illegal threats. And because it happened online, it is cyber-harassment.
NJ Penalizes Cyber Harassment & Cyber Bullying Severely
Cyber harassment is a fourth degree crime which may result in as much as 18 months in prison and a fine of $10,000.00, unless the perpetrator is 21 years or older pretending to be a minor for purposes of harassing a minor. Then, the charge is a third degree crime, which carries a possible 3 to 5 year prison term and $15,000.00 in fines.
Juvenile charges for cyber harassment are punished differently. Specifically, a minor adjudicated delinquent for a crime of the third degree faces up to 2 years of juvenile detention and up to 1 year for a fourth degree crime. In addition, minors who commit cyber harassment are conditionally sentenced to education courses about cyber harassment and its consequences. Parents are expected to comply with a juvenile’s sentence or be fined.
What to do when Accused of Cyber Harassment in Middlesex County NJ
Since cyber harassment is so broad, it is easy to commit the crime but also possible to show lack of intent to harm another or their property. Your attorney can provide evidence of your innocence, that you were expressing your opinion or otherwise acting in accordance with what is legal under the law, rather than threatening. A knowledgeable and skilled lawyer may help you prove that the alleged victim reported you in retaliation for incidences unrelated to the communications alleged in the complaint. They may have even contacted you with similar messages or equally engaged in a heated dispute. Do not risk a criminal record, which can hinder your educational and employment opportunities as you seek to move on with your life. Contact a criminal defense attorney at our firm at (732) 659-9600 to discuss your cyber harassment charges and how we can help to protect your interests. We defend clients charged with cyber harassment and similar threatening acts actionable under other NJ statutes, such as terroristic threats, harassment, or stalking. Get in touch with us today to learn more in a free consultation.