Due to the increased use and influence of social media in today’s society, cyber-bullying or cyber-harassment is growing and occurs frequently. New Jersey passed a Cyber-Harassment statute (N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4.1) in January of 2014 and criminalized internet based harassment.
Cyber-harassment is communication, in an online capacity via any electronic device or through a social networking site, with the purpose to harass another by either making a threat of bodily injury or sending lewd, indecent or obscene material to a person with the purpose of causing emotional harm to that person. Actual harm need not be caused by the acts as long as the acts are undertaken with the intent to emotionally harm a reasonable person or place a reasonable person in fear of physical or emotional harm.
In addition, posting or tweeting or sending any lewd, indecent or obscene material about a person with intent to emotionally harm that person is a crime. This arguably would include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Periscope among others. Obscene material clearly includes a depiction of sexual activity or a picture or video of the female breast, vagina and a male’s genitals. Sexting may also be included.
Cyber-harassment charges are substantially more serious than standard harassment charges under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4. Standard harassment charges are disorderly persons offenses, while cyber-harassment charges are felony charges that can be fourth degree or third degree depending on the presence of aggravating factors. If a person is 21 years or older at the time of the offense and impersonates a minor for the purpose of cyber-harassing a minor then it would be a third degree offense, otherwise it would be a fourth degree offense. The penalty for fourth degree cyber-harassment in New Jersey is up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, while the penalty for third degree cyber-harassment is 3-5 years of prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
If you have been charged with the crime of cyber-harassment or you have any questions regarding the cyber-harassment statute in New Jersey, you are encouraged to contact one of the skilled attorneys at the law firm of Wronko Loewen Benucci at (908) 704-9200.