Any type of domestic violence act against another person is punishable in California. One of the common domestic violence acts is posting harmful information about another person on the internet. Many people face severe penalties for committing internet crimes without knowledge. The state has established stiff laws to curb internet crimes. Penal Code 653.2 is one law that prohibits posting harmful information on the internet. You could face misdemeanor charges under this statute, which could lead to a jail term of one year. Therefore, you should seek the services of an expert criminal defense attorney to avoid a possible harsh conviction after an accusation under PC 653.2. Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm has experienced attorneys to help you create a convincing defense to fight your charges.
Posting Harmful Information On The Internet Explained
Posting harmful information on the internet about another person with the intent or motive to invite third parties to abuse or threaten them is a modern form of domestic violence. The act is affecting many internet users. In California, it is a crime to threaten or harm an intimate partner or a household member through controlling or coercive behaviors. Under California's domestic violence laws, any individual could become a domestic violence victim, whether dating, unmarried, married, or simply living together. In a domestic violence case, the crime the prosecutor files depends on the circumstances of abusive acts of the defendant towards their intimate partners or immediate family members.
The crime of posting harmful information on the internet about another person is also known as electronic harassment or direct cyber-harassment. In a family relationship or intimate disputes, indirect cyber-harassment has become the new order of revenge. Under Penal Code 653.2 of the California domestic violence law, indirect cyber-harassment is a criminal offense.
Harassment under California Penal Code 653.2 is engaging in specific abusive actions towards someone else knowingly or willfully. These are actions that any standard or typical person considers annoying, tormenting, alarming, or terrorizing. Therefore, never confuse direct cyber harassment (cyberstalking) with indirect cyber-harassment. Under Penal Code 646.9, direct cyber-harassment or cyberstalking occurs when the offender directly harasses or stalks the victim.
Relationship Between PC 653.2 And Domestic Violence
In California, you would commit a crime of domestic violence by being a threat to a domestic partner. Harassing someone else could be direct or indirect under California law. It is reasonable to argue that posting harmful information on the internet is related to domestic violence since harassment is one of the ways of causing harm.
According to California law, domestic violence does not only occur when physical harm or abuse is involved. Therefore, you could violate domestic violence laws as long as your actions were towards harming the victim. For example, posting harmful information on the internet to harm a domestic partner is considered domestic violence, although the offense is charged under a different statute. A domestic partner under this statute could be:
- A registered domestic partner
- Current or former fiancée
- A former or current spouse
- An individual who you were seriously dating
- A former or current cohabitant
- A person with whom you have had a child
Elements Of Posting Harmful Information On The Internet
The prosecutor cannot bring details of other crimes like battery into your case. He/she must show specific elements to charge you with posting harmful information on the internet. Some of the elements of crime could be:
You Wanted The Victim to Have A Reasonable Fear For Their Safety
The element of invoking reasonable fear in the victim must be evident for the prosecutor to charge you with posting harmful information on the internet. Making threats to the victim before posting the content could also prove your intentions. Pre-empting your intentions is one of the threats, especially when you clarify that the victim would suffer harassment or harm from the posted information. In this situation, the threats arise merely from malicious intentions common in domestic abuses or from the victim's failure to yield to your demands.
The prosecutor can also derive your intentions from the words you use and retrieve the evidence from the information you post on the internet. For instance, if you share the victim's cell phone number, vehicle registration, or address, the victim could have a reason to fear for their safety. This could be sufficient evidence the prosecutor could use to allege that you knew the victim could fear naturally and that you wanted the victim to be alarmed, annoyed, or tormented from the harassment he/she would receive.
You Shared The Information That Could Cause Harm To The Victim
Under this element of the crime, any information that could lead third parties to the victim's workplace, home, school or expose their identity could be considered harmful. The information would expose the victim to harassment and aggression from an audience that he/she does not know. In this case, the prosecutor would focus on breaking down the information you posted on the internet. This would be purposely to show the evidence why the information could cause harm to the victim by attracting harassment, spite, and agitation from the members of the public.
For instance, you could post the information of a victim’s views on controversial topics that could arouse anger in some people. In such a situation, you would have exposed the victim to danger from angry people who could attack them in public, at work, or home.
Other elements the prosecutor should prove are:
- You wanted the victim to face unwanted physical contact, harassment, or ridicule from strangers.
- You performed the unlawful actions using an electronic device
- You shared harmful information online without the victim’s consent
Penalties For Violating PC 653.2
You could receive several penalties for violating PC 653.2 once the trial concludes and the judge finds you guilty of the crime. In California, posting harmful information on the internet is a misdemeanor. Subsequently, you are likely to face the following penalties:
- A jail term not exceeding one year in county jail — At times, you would face this penalty as the only punishment. However, in aggravated cases, the court could combine serving a jail term and paying fines.
- A maximum fine of $1,000 — The court could reduce the fine to a lower fee based on the mitigating factors and defenses your criminal attorney presents.
- Summary probation is a common alternative to a jail term after facing misdemeanor charges. You will avert a jail term if the judge provides this option. However, you would have to meet several court requirements under the supervision of a probation officer. You would also be under strict regulations despite the appealing nature of the probation over jail term. When you fail to follow the probation regulations, it could be revoked and lead you to a mandatory jail term.
The conditions of misdemeanor probation in California include:
- A requirement to show up on court dates
- Mandatory participation in individual or group therapy
- You would be required to pay court expenses and fines
- The court could issue the victim with a protective order
- Complete community service
Defenses To PC 653.2 Charges
You could face severe punishment in California for violating Penal Code 653.2. A conviction under this statute could lead to severe penalties that could affect your life in many ways. Fortunately, with the help of a competent attorney, you can challenge the allegations. You could talk to your attorney, and he/she will investigate the facts of the crime. Your attorney could also interview the alleged victim and the persons close to you. Using the gathered information, your attorney could challenge your charges as follows to weaken the prosecutor’s case:
You Deleted The Harmful Post
This argument is an acceptance that you shared the harmful information on the internet about the victim in question. However, you deleted the alleged information immediately after realizing what you shared could cause harassment to the victim. This argument reveals that you had no ill motives when posting the information. In such a situation, you would face lesser charges that would lead to lesser penalties.
Often, in criminal cases in California, false allegations do arise. At times, the victim in question could accuse you falsely of sharing harmful information regarding them to have you in trouble. This defense backed with evidence could lead to the dismissal of your charges if you never posted the damaging information. For instance, you could argue that you were not aware of the harmful information if it was shared from a social media platform or disseminated through an email.
Using proper investigation, your attorney could prove to the court that your email account or social media was hacked to frame you. The victim could have also created a fictional email address or account in your name to post the harmful information and frame you. Your charges could be dismissed if your attorney can prove the allegations false with evidence.
No Intent To Cause Fear Or Harm On The Victim
The prosecutor must prove the defendant’s intent to incite third parties, causing them to harass the victim in question. The defendant would not be guilty of violating PC 653.2 if the information posted online had no intention to incite third parties or cause the victim fear and harassment. Your attorney would challenge the allegations by asserting that the third party misunderstood the information and went ahead to harass the victim. The prosecutor would find it hard to prove you guilty after establishing this fact in court, and there would not be any reason to charge you.
Under Penal Code 653.2 of California law, the defense of intoxication is not acceptable to fight the charges of posting harmful information on the internet. However, the judge could consider intoxication as a defense if it was unintended. For example, a defendant could be at a party, and other people intentionally intoxicate them with the drug. After the intoxication, they convince the defendant to share harmful information online regarding their ex-partner. This action could not have taken place without the influence of drugs. Therefore, the judge could consider the information not purposeful or unintentional in such a situation since drugs influenced the action. Your charges will be dismissed if the defense of intoxication is proved.
No Ample Evidence
In any criminal case in California, the prosecutor must provide sufficient evidence that leaves no doubt that the defendant shared harmful information online. This is so because, at times, investigating officers rush to conclude a case without sufficient evidence for a guilty verdict. For example, the victim could accuse the defendant of a crime and insist that it be the defendant since no other person had the information. The investigating officers would charge the defendant for believing the victim without gathering the necessary evidence about the allegations. There is no sufficient evidence that you shared the information online in such a situation. Your attorney could challenge the charges arguing that there is no substantial evidence to charge you of the offense and have you released.
You Were Coerced
Your attorney could use coercion as a defense if you were pushed to share harmful information against your ex-partner or family member on the internet. This is because when someone is coerced to do something, they do it unwillingly for fear of the consequences of refusing to yield. You need to prove the specific element used to force your involvement in the crime if you plan on using this defense for your case. If you intend to present this argument in court, guidance from a competent criminal defense attorney is necessary.
You Acted Under Duress
Duress is another form of coercion involving people with power, such as law enforcers. For example, someone with authority could force you to share harmful information about your spouse because of bad blood between the two of you. Often, the law enforcers could force the defendant to commit an offense by threatening their family. With the help of a competent attorney, you could challenge the actions of the law enforcers.
A Victim Of Hacking
Hackers could access a networking account or someone else's computer system without their consent. The hackers could share your identifying or personal information on the internet when they access it. They could also create fake emails in your name or take control of your social media accounts and use them to share harmful information regarding other people on your pages. Because of this, the police could wrongfully arrest and charge you of an offense you have not committed.
If another person accesses your account without your consent, fighting cybercrime charges could often get complicated. At such a time, hiring a competent defense attorney in cybercrimes could be the best option to fight your charges.
At times, the charges against you could be dismissed. There are measures you could take with the help of your attorney to reduce or avoid the negative repercussions of a conviction. The measures could include:
- Filing an appeal immediately after the conviction
- Having your arrest record sealed if you had only been arrested for posting harmful information on the internet, but you had not been charged.
- Avoid communication or contact with the alleged victim to prevent violating a restraining order and avoid additional charges.
- Having your conviction record expunged enables you to live without the negative consequences of that record.
- Obeying the laws of the state and the conditions the court imposes as part of your probation. Have your attorney defend you if you commit a violation to avoid facing charges for a probation violation.
The law enforcers are expected to uphold the law by adhering to particular codes of conduct according to the law in California. If the law enforcers violate the law through their misconduct, any evidence they gather could be rejected in court. The ways the police could be accused of misconduct include:
- Violating the search and seizure laws
- Failing to interrogate or question you
- Failing to read you your Miranda rights
The law enforcers' misconduct could lead to dismissal of your charges because the evidence gathered in such a manner is not acceptable in court.
Related Offenses To PC 653.2
Certain crimes are often mentioned or charged alongside this PC 653.2 in California. The crimes include:
Sharing Harmful Materials With Children — Penal Code 288.2
It is unlawful under California PC 288.2 for any person to share harmful material with minors below 18 years to arouse you, minor sexually, or play sex with them.
This crime is a wobbler under California law, meaning the court could convict you of a felony or a misdemeanor. You could face a fine of $10,000, a sentence of three years in a State prison, and possible registration as a sex offender under PC 290 if the prosecutor charges you of a felony. You could also face a fine of $1,000 and a jail term of up to one year in county jail if the prosecutor charges you with misdemeanor charges.
Making Criminal Threats — Penal Code 422
This statute makes it a crime in California for anyone to make criminal threats to another person. The criminal threats in question include making someone else fear for their safety or the safety of their loved ones. For example, you could threaten to kill someone or cause significant bodily injury.
This offense is a wobbler under California law, meaning you could face misdemeanor or felony charges. You could face fines of up to $1,000 and detainment for one year in county jail if the prosecutor charges you for a misdemeanor under this statute. You could also face fines not exceeding 10,000 and three years of detainment in state prison if the prosecutor convicts you of a felony.
Making criminal threats could accompany aggravating factors, which would lead to stiffer penalties. Some of the aggravating factors are:
- Making repeated threats against several people with various objectives. This could earn you additional penalties for every threat.
- Using a dangerous weapon while issuing threats — Would earn a defendant an additional jail term of one year in state prison.
Cyberstalking — Penal Code 646.9
Under this statute, it is a crime for anyone to harass or threaten someone else or their close families using electronic communication, making them feel insecure. This statute focuses on stalking a person on cyberspace or the internet and on physical stalking.
This offense is a wobbler in California, meaning you could face either a misdemeanor or felony charges based on various circumstances, such as your criminal history and the severity of the crime. You could face maximum fines of $1000 and detainment that does not exceed one year in county jail if the prosecutor charges for a misdemeanor. You could also face maximum fines of up to $10,000, possible lifetime registration as a sex offender under PC 290, and imprisonment of up to five years in a State prison if the prosecutor charges you for felony cyberstalking.
You could also be subjected to the following regardless of whether you are convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor:
- Confinement in a mental illness hospital
- Restraining order to ensure safe contact between the offender and the victim
You could also face domestic violence charges subjecting you to more and harsher penalties if the victim in question is your domestic partner.
Penal Code 647(j)(4) — Revenge Porn
It is unlawful under PC 647(j)(4) to circulate the sexual images of someone else without their permission. For example, the victim could have permitted you to capture the images. Still, you decide to expose their privacy and send them on the internet to cause emotional distress to the victim. Under California law, this crime is a misdemeanor, and you could face the following penalties:
- Informal probation
- Six months or less imprisonment in a county jail
- Maximum fines of up to $1,000
Find A Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
It is advisable to have an experienced attorney by your side to help you challenge your charges if you are accused of posting harmful information on the internet. Posting harmful information online is a complex crime with severe punishment. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we are one of the most reputable firms that handle internet harassment cases in California. Contact us today at 951-946-6366 for expert criminal defense services.