Most internet stalking is harmless and many of us are guilty of checking up on an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend through social media at one time or another. Many times it is the innocent checking of an Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter feed. But when stalking, either online or in the real world becomes harassment, there are legal consequences.
Whether you are the victim of stalking or are accused of stalking someone, attorney Jennifer Horwitz can explain the criminal consequences of stalking and cyberstalking laws. With over 25 years of experience representing those accused of crimes in the Seattle area, Jennifer is knowledgeable of Washington’s criminal court system and has the skills needed to defend against charges for stalking or cyberstalking. She has also assisted hundreds of clients to obtain protective orders against harassers.
Cyberstalking: More Than Just Instagram Creeping
Sometimes people are curious and want to know more about you based on the information you publicly post on social media. Casual comments, likes, or other interactions on social media are normal and often welcomed. However, since social media has become increasingly popular in modern society, the Revised Code of Washington has evolved to address problems that come about through social media use.
The Washington legislature recognizes cyberstalking as more than just checking up accounts that are made publicly available. Cyberstalking goes much further. It is defined in the Revised Code of Washington 9.61.260 as intending to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass another person
1) by using obscene or inappropriate language;
2) acting anonymously or repeatedly, or
3) threatening to cause physical harm.
Examples of behavior constituting cyberstalking include sending unwanted inappropriate photos, creating new user accounts after being blocked to communicate with someone, or making threats of harm.
Cyberstalking is generally a gross misdemeanor, punishable by no more than 364 days in prison or a fine of no more than $5,000. However, cyberstalking is elevated to a class C felony if the accused has been convicted of harassing the same victim before or there are threats to kill another person. A class C felony is punishable by up to 5 years in prison or a fine of no more than $10,000.
Harassment, stalking, and issuing threats are just a few of the behaviors that constitute domestic violence. In Washington, anyone who has reason to fear domestic violence by a partner, former partner, or another household member may seek a protective order from the state courts. A protective order prohibits the accused from having any unsanctioned contact with the alleged victim. A protective order may limit the accused’s ability to communicate with or use social media and other electronic communications. Petitioning the court for a protective order requires showing the alleged behavior amounts to harassment in a court hearing. Whether you are the accused or are seeking a protective order, Jennifer Horwitz is skilled at presenting a case to the court and persuading a judge to side with you.
Real-World Stalking: Harassment IRL
Online stalking can be scary, but in-person harassment is even more serious. Criminal stalking is defined by the Revised Code of Washington as intentionally and repeatedly harassing or following another person while placing that person in fear of injury. The person accused must either intend to cause fear or act in a way that he or she knows would cause a reasonable person to be placed in fear of injury. Attempts to contact or follow a person after the person makes it clear he or she does not want to be contacted or followed are proof of the accused’s intent to harass.
Like cyberstalking, stalking is generally a gross misdemeanor, punishable by no more than 364 days in prison or a fine of no more than $5,000. However, stalking is elevated to a class B felony if the accused has been convicted of stalking in the past, the harassment violates a protective order, the accused was armed with a deadly weapon, or certain retaliatory situations involving public officials or court witnesses. A class B felony is punishable by up to 10 years in prison or a fine of no more than $20,000.
Similar to cyberstalking, stalking is also a behavior that constitutes domestic violence in the state of Washington. A victim of stalking may seek and obtain a protective order from the court that prohibits the accused from contacting or even coming within a certain distance of the accused. Obtaining a protective order requires showing evidence of stalking or harassment to the court at a judicial hearing.
Discuss Your Cyberstalking and Real-World Stalking Concerns with a Seattle Attorney
Relationships between people can be very complicated. Social media makes it easier than ever to communicate with and learn about people nationwide. But when the use of social media crosses the line, or worse, moves to the real world, there are legal consequences.
If you are afraid of someone in your life, online or in-person, or have been accused of stalking or cyberstalking, Jennifer Horwitz Law can help. Jennifer knows the law inside and out and has spent her career serving clients involved in criminal prosecutions, domestic violence situations, and family disputes. Most of all, she cares about her clients’ well-being and takes time to listen to their concerns, making them feel at ease. Contact Jennifer Horwitz Law today to learn how she can help your situation.
Jennifer Horwitz is located in Seattle, WA, and also serves the areas in and around King County, Issaquah, Sammamish, and Bellevue.