Federal Stalking Laws
Although many states prohibit stalking, only a handful address online stalking, which is also referred to as cyberstalking. Federal law, however, does address cyberstalking by prohibiting the transmission of any communication in interstate or foreign commerce that contains a threat to injure another person. This law applies to any communication that is actually transmitted, which includes threats made over telephone, email, or the internet. Defendants who are convicted of cyberstalking in federal court face up to $250,000 in fines and five years in prison, so if you have been unfairly accused of cyberstalking or a similar offense, it is critical to speak with an experienced federal crime attorney who can help you begin formulating a defense.
What is Cyberstalking?
Although cyberstalking covers a wide range of conduct, it is primarily understood to apply to online stalking through the use of the internet, email, or other electronic communications. To qualify as cyberstalking, a person’s actions must meet a certain threshold, namely, a pattern of threatening or malicious behaviors that involve a credible threat of harm.
Federal Statutes that Address Cyberstalking
Online harassment is actually prohibited by a number of federal laws. For instance, 18 U.S.C. 2261A makes it unlawful to use an interactive computer service to:
- Place another person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury; or
- Cause substantial emotional distress to another person or members of that person’s immediate family.
However, a person can only be charged with this offense if there is evidence that he or she physically traveled across state lines to further the harassment.
Another federal statute, found in 18 U.S.C. 875, similarly prohibits making actual threats to kidnap or injure someone else over the internet or the phone. However, this means that this law cannot be applied in cases where a person is only accused of harassment and not of making an actual threat. Another federal law, 47 U.S.C. 223, on the other hand, does make it illegal to use a phone or other telecommunications device to harass, abuse, or threaten another person. There are also limits to this law, as it specifically excludes interactive computer services from the definition of what qualifies as a telecommunications device. As a result, the statute can only be used to prosecute defendants who are accused of texting or calling an alleged victim and not those who supposedly used social media, email, or online forums to harass someone else. Furthermore, although broader than other federal cyberstalking laws because it covers both threats and harassment, this statute also has limitations because it only applies to direct communications between two parties. The consequences of a conviction under this statute are also less severe, as this form of cyberstalking is a misdemeanor offense, and is punishable by up to two years imprisonment.
Call Today to Discuss Your Charges with an Experienced Federal Crime Attorney
If you have been accused of or charged with cyberstalking in federal court, you need the advice of a dedicated defense attorney. Please contact Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. in Miami at 305-670-9919 today to learn more about your legal options.