Technology has changed wildly over the past decades, with many of today’s most popular electronic devices nonexistent even a few years ago. Though the change has been tremendously valuable, allowing people to stay connected in ways that would have been previously unimaginable, there are real downsides. The same technology that can be used to connect and spread joy can also be used to cause harm, granting easier access to strangers than ever before.
Given the multitude of uses of technology, it was inevitable that legislators took action to criminalize actions via technology that result in harm to others. In Lake Norman, North Carolina, these laws can be lumped together under one umbrella known as “cyberstalking” laws. It is important to understand that cyberstalking laws are taken extremely seriously, just because the offense happened over the internet does not mean the police or prosecutors will be lenient. In fact, in North Carolina, cyberstalking is classified as a Class 2 misdemeanor offense. Conviction carries with it punishment of up to 60 days in jail.
North Carolina’s cyberstalking statute, found in North Carolina Gen. Stat. § 14-196.3, targets any activity involving either “electronic communication” or “electronic mail”. The statute goes on to say that it is a crime to email or communicate electronically any threat to harm a person, their property or any member of the person’s family. It is also a crime to use these electronic means to extort the person, for either money or services. The statute also holds people responsible when someone else uses their electronic devices to engage in cyberstalking, punishing the owner of the device as well as the perpetrator. Individuals are also prohibited from lying about something happening to a person or his or her family member, if the purpose is meant to cause harm. Finally, the law also says that individuals are not allowed to use electronic communications or email to repeatedly harass, scare, abuse or embarrass others.
Prior to the creation of the cyberstalking law, there were other laws aimed at similar electronic harassment. For instance, before computers and personal electronic devices were prevalent, telephones were the method of choice for electronic stalking and harassment. The North Carolina legislature passed a law making telephone harassment a Class 2 misdemeanor, also punishable with 60 days behind bars. The law penalizes those who use the phone as a tool of harassment, threats, annoyance or abuse of others. It is also a crime to use the phone in a way that is either vulgar, lewd or profane.
Though cyberstalking may not grab a lot of headlines, it is an area where prosecutors have fairly broad discretion. Critics say that an aggressive prosecutor can choose to deem many kinds of electronic contact as cyberstalking given the somewhat vague wording in the statutes. Prosecutors have a lot of discretion in bringing such cases which can cause lasting harm in the form of a criminal record. As a result, it is crucial if you are facing a cyberstalking charge that you hire an experienced Mooresville, criminal defense attorney to fight on your side.
Fortunately for those wrongly accused, cyberstalking charges can be difficult to prove. Prosecutors have a hard time showing who actually made harassing phone calls, text messages and emails. Online anonymity can serve as a shroud, obscuring who is actually behind certain offensive behavior, making it more difficult to make such charges stick as courts require concrete evidence for a conviction. Though it would seem like a person’s name, either on a caller ID or email would be all the proof you need, the reality is that those eager to evade detection have a number of tricks to confuse the victims of cyberstalking as well as law enforcement officials about the true origin of the communications. In fact, sometimes, the true offenders can cause harm to innocent people, framing them for a crime they didn’t commit. It’s up to the prosecutors to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person charged is actually the person who engaged in the conduct.
The Lake Norman criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC can help you or your loved ones navigate the criminal justice system. Our years of experience in the local court system and fighting all types of criminal charges can ensure you receive the best defense possible. Whether it involves cyberstalking or any other criminal charges, contact us today and see how we can help.