We live in a world divided by states, countries and continents. Yet, we are all still connected by one thing—the Internet. I don’t think any of us could ever imagine a life without social media or the ability to electronically communicate with our family and friends. And, while the Internet has its many benefits, it can—unfortunately—breed darkness in the lives of many people who have been cyberstalked and/or cyberbullied.
Earlier this year in Florida, two 12-year-olds were charged with cyberstalking in connection with the death of a middle-school student who took her own life. Her name was Gabriella Green and she hung herself after rumors were spread about her online. According to the police report, one of the 12-year-old defendants started rumors about Gabriella “having sexually transmitted diseases, vulgar name-calling…and threats to ‘expose’ personal and sensitive details” about her life.
Gabriella’s story is one of many. Nationally, about 1-in-3 children say they are cyberbullied and about 12 percent say they have bullied others online, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center. That’s why it is important for parents of children being bullied or those accused of being bullies to understand the cyberstalking and cyberbullying laws in their home state.
Cyberstalking & Cyberbullying Laws in Georgia
In the state of Georgia, cyberstalking/cyberbullying is a crime of “criminal stalking.” Under O.C.G.A. 16-5-90, a person commits the offense of stalking when:
- He or she follows, places under surveillance, or contacts another person at or about place or places without the consent of the other person for the purpose of harassing and intimidating the other person; and,
- He or she violates a bond to keep the peace pursuant to a standing order issued by the Court such as any temporary or permanent restraining/protective orders and injunctions that prohibits the harassment or intimidation of another person.
Further, under the statute, the term “contact” shall mean any communication including without being limited to communication in person, by telephone, by mail, by broadcast, by computer, by computer network, or by any other electronic device. Also, the term “harassing and intimidating” means a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes emotional distress by placing such person in reasonable fear for such person’s safety or the safety of a member of his or her immediate family, by establishing a pattern of harassing and intimidating behavior, and which serves no legitimate purpose. Thus, a person may be guilty of stalking even if he or she does not make a threat of physical harm toward the alleged victim.
Penalties for the Offense of Stalking in Georgia
A person who commits the offense of stalking is guilty of a misdemeanor, which is punishable
by a fine and/or up to 12 months in jail. Upon a second conviction for stalking, a person shall be guilty of a felony and be punished by imprisonment for not less than one year and no more than ten years.
Defending Criminal Stalking Charges
In a stalking case, as any other criminal case, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed by the defendant. Criminal stalking charges, including cyberstalking and cyberbullying, can be defeated by making a legal argument that the state failed to prove the elements of the crime of stalking. For example, if you have been accused of cyberstalking/cyberbullying another person, the best defense is to prove that you were not the person communicating with and/or harassing the alleged victim. If other people have access to your electronic devices and social media accounts it would be harder to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were the one responsible for the alleged stalking.
Further, to prove the crime of stalking, the State must show that there was a pattern of harassing and intimidating behavior. Thus, another defense against a stalking charge is to show that there was no such pattern. The Court in State v. Burke 287 Ga. 377, (2010) concluded that a one-time incident of harassment and intimidation would not suffice to support a stalking conviction.
In Ramsey v. Middleton, 310 Ga. App. 300, (2011), a defendant was acquitted of a stalking charge when he argued that there was insufficient evidence to establish the elements of stalking. The Court agreed and concluded that there was not enough evidence to show that he was guilty of stalking. In this case, the defendant and alleged victim had previously been in a personal relationship for 15 years. The defendant worked as a painter at a local school, in which, the alleged victim’s children attended. However, the defendant never spoke to the accused or threatened her in any manner. The Court concluded that the victim and accused simply being in the same place at the same time did not meet the standard for stalking.
Contact Bixon Law Today
If you or a loved one has been accused of cyberstalking or cyberbullying, we encourage you to contact Bixon Law today. Michael Bixon represents clients in Atlanta and throughout the state of Georgia. He is committed to helping his clients through difficult situations and working to get them the best possible outcome. We invite you to call us at 404-551-5684 for a free consultation.