Harassment by Computer
Whether it’s on a social media platform, an online forum, or through email, people sometimes say things on the internet that they wouldn’t necessarily say in real life. And, for the most part, society recognizes that not all online communications should be taken seriously. However, Virginia law harshly punishes those who engage in harassment by computer. At Robinson Law, PLLC, our Fairfax criminal defense attorneys have more than five decades of combined experience aggressively defending clients charged with harassment, stalking, and domestic violence offenses. In our experience, the comments leading to these charges are often made in the heat of passion or taken out of context, and we will do everything we can to ensure your arrest has as little impact on your future as possible.What Is Harassment by Computer in Virginia?
Virginia law prohibits cyberstalking or, as lawmakers refer to it, harassment by computer. Under Virginia Code §18.2-152.7:1, it is considered a criminal offense to use a computer or computer network to do any of the following:
- Communicate obscene, vulgar, profane, lewd, lascivious, or indecent language;
- Make any suggestion or proposal of an obscene nature;
- Threaten an illegal or immoral act.
However, your statements are only considered criminal if you made them with the intent to coerce, intimidate, or harass others, including someone other than the intended recipient.
Harassment by computer is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.Examples of Harassment by Computer
Due to the broad language of the Virginia harassment law, there is a wide range of conduct that the statute prohibits. The following are all potential situations in which prosecutors may bring charges under §18.2-152.7:1:
- Posting threatening comments on another’s social media page;
- Sending unwanted, vulgar emails or text messages;
- Posting vulgar comments about another person, even if the comments are true;
- Threatening to hurt another person, even if the threat wasn’t conveyed to that person; and
- Soliciting another person to harass someone.
It depends. The crime of harassment by computer isn’t so much concerned about whether the person making the comments was serious about carrying them out, but instead is focused on the intended impact of the comments. For example, assume you send someone a message indicating that you are going to leak nude pictures of them if they do not pay you $1,000. Even if you didn’t have nude pictures in your possession, if the purpose of your message was to intimidate or coerce the recipient into believing you did, it might be considered harassment by computer.Related Offenses
When it comes to stalking and harassment, especially online, the lines between crimes can be a bit fuzzy. Thus, depending on the circumstances, prosecutors will often charge multiple similar offenses, including:
- Stalking (Virginia Code §18.2-60.3)
- Threats of Death or Bodily Injury (Virginia Code §18.2-60)
- Violation of Protective Orders (Virginia Code §18.2-60.4)
- Simple Assault (Virginia Code §18.2-57)
- Unauthorized Use of Electronic Tracking Device (Virginia Code §18.2-60.5)
- Use of Profane, Threatening, or Indecent Language (Virginia Code §18.2-427)
As you might imagine, harassment charges often come up in the context of domestic violence. While these cases are more challenging in some ways, they also open the door to arguing the alleged victim’s motive for fabricating the allegations made against the defendant.Were You Charged with Harassment in Virginia?
If you were recently charged with harassment by computer, violating a protective order or any other similar crime, it is imperative that you reach out to an experienced Fairfax criminal defense attorney for immediate assistance. Even minors charged with these crimes face tremendous—and potentially life-changing—consequences. At Robinson Law, PLLC, our dedicated criminal defense lawyers have decades of experience helping clients successfully navigate the criminal justice system to secure the best possible result. We know that whatever the police report says is almost never how a situation went down, and we’re here to help maintain your presumption of innocence. To learn more and to schedule a free consultation today, call 703-844-3746. You can also connect with us through our online contact form. We proudly represent clients in Fairfax, Loudon, Stafford, and Suffolk counties, as well as throughout Northern Virginia.