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Cyber Harassment Charges in Pennsylvania


2/3/2020
The internet has opened up a world of endless possibilities and conveniences. The ability to transfer information instantly has fundamentally changed many day-to-day aspects of our lives. With all of the benefits of cyberspace also come some drawbacks, however. One of those drawbacks is the potential for cybercrime and online harassment. Since online communication lacks some essential characteristics of face-to-face or verbal communication, what you say and do online can be misconstrued or taken out of context and used against you.  
 
If you have found yourself on the wrong end of criminal charges related to your internet use, an experienced criminal defense lawyer may be able to help. You should know that there are defenses that are successful against cyber harassment charges, and a lawyer familiar with Pennsylvania law will be able to bring your case to the best resolution possible. To schedule a free consultation with Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Lauren Wimmer, call our office at 215-712-1212 today.
 
How Pennsylvania Laws Define Cyber Stalking
 
The use of the internet has become commonplace amongst most Americans. According to the United States Census Bureau, between 2014-2018, nearly 80 percent of households in Pennsylvania had an internet subscription. With the rise in usage comes the need to enact laws to address the way people use the internet and act in cyberspace.
 
Pennsylvania law differentiates cyberstalking, cyber harassment, and cyber harassment of a child. To be charged with cyberstalking, you must show a pattern of intent to cause someone to fear bodily harm or have mental anguish. While the public often considers stalking to be something that is done in person, it can also be done online, primarily through social media platforms.
 
Cyber harassment is different in that it might involve using lewd or obscene language or engaging in conduct without a real purpose. Repeated communications of this sort or making anonymous contact or contacting someone at late hours can lead to a cyber harassment charge in Pennsylvania. 
 
Cyber harassment of a child occurs when a person engages in conduct intended to harass, annoy, or alarm a minor child via electronic means or with social media. It can include disparaging comments, opinions, or even threats of harm that are likely to cause significant emotional distress to the child, enough that it creates a physical manifestation of stress. 
 
Finally, cyberbullying usually applies to minors interacting with other minors online. It is an intentional electronic or written act directed at another student in a school setting. It must be persistent and severe and meet one of the following criteria:
 
  • Markedly interfering with a student’s education
  • Creating a threatening environment
  • Considerably disrupting the orderly operation of the school
 
What Happens if You Are Convicted of Cyber Harassment in PA?
 
Being charged with cyber harassment in PA or any type of cybercrime is a serious offense that could result in you spending many years behind bars and paying hefty fines. Keep in mind that if your cybercrime crossed state lines, you could be prosecuted at the federal or state level.  To help mitigate your charges and potential penalties, it’s imperative that you retain an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorney to represent you.
 
Depending on the specifics of your situation, a first offense of cyber harassment in PA could be charged as a summary offense, which is punishable with up to 90 days in jail and as much as a $300 fine if convicted. It could also be a third-degree misdemeanor charge, which could result in up to a year in jail and as much as a $2,000 fine. If you are in violation of a restraining order, the charges and potential consequences get tougher.
 
If you are charged with cyberstalking instead of cyber harassment, the penalties are more severe. A first offense of stalking is typically a first-degree misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. A second offense involving the same individual might be charged as a third-degree felony resulting in as many as seven years in prison and up to a $15,000 fine.
 
Possible Defenses to Cyber Harassment in PA
 
You will need a solid defensive strategy if you are not eligible for a pre-trial diversion program or are not able to plead down your charges. Because it can be difficult to identify what defenses apply in a given situation and raise them appropriately, it’s critical that anyone facing allegations of cybercrimes retain an experienced defense lawyer as soon as possible. Some possible defenses to cyber harassment in PA include:
 
Free Speech
 
The 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution protects your right to free speech, but your free speech can be limited by the state if it is considered to be a severe threat. The line between free speech and cyber harassment is often not clear-cut, making this a worthwhile defense to explore with your criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia.
 
Unreasonable Perception of Communication
 
What constitutes harassing or threatening behaviors is often a matter of opinion. A potential defense tactic in a cyber harassment case is attempting to convince the judge or the jury that the alleged victim’s perception of the communication at issue is unreasonable and the conduct does not rise to the level of criminal conduct.
 
Unintended Consequences
 
The prosecution must prove that you intended to harass someone. Sometimes a successful defense involves establishing that the alleged cybercrime was an unintended consequence of your actions.  For example, if your computer was infected by a virus as a result of you opening an email and threatening emails were sent from your account, you could likely avoid a conviction.
 
Have you Been Charged with Cyber Harassment in PA? 
 
If you are facing allegations of cyber harassment or any other internet-based crime in Pennsylvania, it is no time to rely on your own legal knowledge or experience. Doing so could be extremely risky for your future and your reputation. Instead, you need a criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia who understands your charges and how the courts have interpreted the law for cyber harassment in PA. 
 
Call Wimmer Criminal Defense Law today at 215-712-1212 or use our convenient online contact form to schedule a free consultation with attorney Lauren Wimmer.