What are the legal consequences of harassing another person using electronic means? How is cyberbullying defined in the state of Arizona?

Cyberbullying is a serious problem that can have devastating impacts on victims. Using electronic media to bully someone is a crime according to state law and may result in charges for harassment, stalking, and more. The law in Arizona requires schools to enforce policies for handling cyberbullying and bullying between students.

Essential things to know if your child has been accused of cyberbullying:

  • Cyberbullying can be done over text, email, social media, phone and instant messaging
  • Cyberbullying can lead to being charged with harassment, threatening, stalking, and more
  • You can receive jail time and fines for cyberbullying
  • Cyberbullying is strongly associated with children, but happens with adults as well

Cyberbullying Laws in Arizona

The majority of cyberbullying cases are covered under the state anti-harassment law. Arizona law states that an individual has committed cyberbullying if they intentionally harass (or know that they’re doing this to someone) by communicating with them in a harassing manner via electronic means. Arizona also made “revenge porn” (sharing naked videos or photos of an ex online) a Class 5 felony crime to further combat cyberbullying.

How is Cyberbullying Done?

Cyberbullying can be done over text message, email, instant messaging, social media, the phone, or in other similar ways. Bullying and cyberbullying are defined as intimidating, threatening, or harassing another person. Arizona law states that harassment is conduct which is directed at someone specific to seriously annoy or alarm them and that has that impact on the targeted person.

Harassment

The crime of harassment is a misdemeanor in Arizona. The following behaviors (among others) are considered harassment:

  • Surveilling another person without a legitimate reason
  • Repeatedly engaging in acts that harass someone
  • Following someone in public even after they ask you to stop
  • Using written, electronic, or verbal means to communicate with someone in a harassing manner
  • Making a false report to social services, a credit agency, or law enforcement about another person

In Arizona, misdemeanor harassment may come with a penalty of a fine of $2,500 and up to 6 months in jail.

Aggravated Harassment 

Harassment may escalate to aggravated harassment (a felony crime) when someone engages in the behaviors listed above and the following conditions are in place:

  • The accused has a prior conviction of domestic violence
  • There’s a valid protective order in place to keep the victim safe from the accused
  • The harassment victim was the target of another previous offense by the harasser

If you receive a felony aggravated harassment charge, you may go to prison for up to 2 years and/or have to pay a $150,000 fine.

Threatening or Intimidating

Threatening or intimidating someone is a misdemeanor offense according to state law. This offense can be verbal or physical and might involve bodily injury or damage to another person’s property. A person commits the crime of threatening or intimidating if they use conduct or language that threatens to cause someone physical injury or damage to their property. 

Feeling threatened or intimidated is a subjective state and such an accusation comes with many complicated factors. So, it’s important to have a strong defense if you’ve been accused of this crime. If you’re convicted of misdemeanor threatening or intimidating, you may have to pay a $2,500 fine, serve a jail sentence up to 6 months, or both.

Stalking

In some cases, cyberbullying can escalate to stalking or other similar behaviors, and the two crimes often overlap. Stalking is defined as a person knowingly or intentionally doing something towards another that causes the receiver of the conduct to suffer emotional distress. In cases of stalking, the stalker often causes the victim to live in fear. The accused might threaten property damage, physical injury or death to the victim, or the injury or death of that person’s loved ones.

Cyberbullying vs. Cyberstalking

The term “cyberbullying” is commonly used to refer to harassment between children or teenagers, while the word “cyberstalking” is usually used for adults. Both involve a person being targeted and victimized, threatened, and verbally abused over the Internet or other virtual means. According to the law, cyberbullying and cyberstalking are essentially the same thing.

What Convictions Can You Get for Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying can have serious consequences that vary depending on the circumstance. In addition to harassment or aggravated harassment charges, it can lead to a conviction for blackmail, stalking, identity theft, and more. This may lead to owing a fine, a criminal conviction that goes on your record, jail time, or even time in prison depending on the severity of the crime.

Schools and Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying laws are largely geared toward children and address the way schools should handle cyberbullying both on campus and off. If a particular incident of bullying results in criminal action, however, the accused might end up with a conviction on their juvenile record. 

State law requires schools to follow procedures and enforce policies to prevent bullying and harassment on school property or at school-sponsored events. This includes bullying and harassment via electronic means, networks, mailing lists, forums, and more. Here is what the policies cover:

  • A method for school employees, parents, and students to report instances of bullying confidentially
  • Making it mandatory for school employees to report suspected cases of bullying to the appropriate officials
  • Official forms for school employees, parents, and students to use for their reports
  • The process for documenting and investigating suspected occurrences of bullying
  • The definitions of harassment, intimidation, and bullying
  • The consequences of falsely reporting bullying

These policies also cover the discipline that students may face if they’re caught bullying, procedures to protect victims who have been physically harmed, and more.

When to Speak With a Lawyer

Although cyberbullying happens in the virtual world, it still has very real consequences whether done anonymously or not. Any type of online bullying, harassment, or threatening may potentially result in legal action.

You should speak with a lawyer as soon as possible if your child was accused of cyberbullying. This is especially important if the behaviors he or she was accused of are criminal in nature. If your child was targeted by cyberbullies, speaking with an attorney might also be a good idea because they can help answer your questions about what to do next. With a situation like this, it’s important to have someone who is experienced with criminal law on your side.

Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.

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