Supreme Court to Address Stalking and Online Harassment

 Posted on March 09,2023 in Criminal Defense

East Hartford Harassment Defense LawyerThere are numerous situations where people may face criminal charges due to stalking or harassment. Due to the ever-increasing use of digital technology and social media, many of these cases involve claims that a person posted messages online that caused others to fear for their safety. These cases sometimes involve issues that are difficult to resolve, since people may claim that they are exercising their right to free speech. The ways these matters are addressed can differ depending on state laws, and whether messages may be considered harassment is not always clear. However, the Supreme Court may soon offer some clarity on this issue, as it is scheduled to hear a case involving online harassment.

When Are Threatening Messages Considered to Be Harassment?

The case in question, Counterman v. Colorado, involved a man who was convicted under a Colorado law that prohibits sending repeated communication to a person in a manner that would cause them to experience emotional distress. The defendant in this case was accused of stalking a singer-songwriter over a period of several years. Even after being blocked repeatedly, he created new social media accounts and continued to communicate with the alleged victim, with many messages seeming to convey threats. The defendant was convicted of stalking and sentenced to 4.5 years in prison.

Notably, the applicable law in Colorado does not require proof that a person intended to cause distress or harm. If a person's actions or the messages they sent would cause someone to reasonably fear for their safety, the person may be convicted of stalking. Even if no direct threats were expressed, the totality of the person's conduct, such as multiple messages sent over a long period of time, may be considered to determine whether this conduct would reasonably cause an alleged victim to fear that they could suffer harm.

When making his case to the Supreme Court, the defendant has argued that the Colorado law violates his First Amendment right to free speech. He has contested whether his actions constituted a "true threat" that demonstrated that he actually intended to threaten harm to the alleged victim.

In previous cases, the Supreme Court has failed to properly address whether online messages constitute harassment or whether they are protected by the First Amendment. In a 2014 case in which a man posted rap lyrics online that seemed to indicate that he intended to cause harm to his ex-wife, the Supreme Court overturned the man's conviction. However, the opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts failed to address issues related to free speech, and it did not provide a framework for determining whether online messages can be considered threats. The Counterman case may allow the Supreme Court to make a more substantive ruling that will provide better guidelines for how these cases may be prosecuted.

Laws Related to Online Harassment in Connecticut

The laws of the state of Connecticut detail when a person may be charged with harassment based on online messages or other forms of communication. The offense of harassment in the first degree, a Class D felony, may apply when a person threatens to injure or kill someone through electronic or written communication. The offense of harassment in the second degree, a Class C misdemeanor, may apply when a person communicates with someone else via phone, email, social media, or electronic messages in a manner that is likely to cause alarm or intimidation. For both of these offenses, the alleged perpetrator must have acted with the intent to harass, alarm, or terrorize the alleged victim.

Contact Our Hartford Stalking Defense Lawyer

If you have been accused of stalking or harassment, you will need to understand the steps you can take to protect your rights and address the potential criminal charges you may face. At Woolf Law Firm, LLC, our Connecticut harassment charges attorney can review the facts of your case to determine the best defense strategy. We will provide you with a strong defense to help you avoid a conviction. Contact us at 860-290-8690 for a free consultation with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.



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