Posting Harmful Information on the Internet

The rise in popularity of the Internet and social media has caused many to engage in electronic cyber harassment. It involves posting harmful information about somebody else online and allowing third parties to stalk or harass the alleged victim. The crime becomes domestic violence when it is committed against an intimate partner or relative. It is a misdemeanor carrying incarceration, fines, a protective order, and a criminal record. If charged with PC 653.2, you need solid legal representation by Darwish Law. Our experienced Santa Ana attorneys can review your case and develop a strategic and aggressive defense to obtain the most favorable outcome.

Understanding Electronic Cyber Harassment

PC 653.2 bans posting harmful information about somebody else online. The crime is indirect cyber harassment, which permits third parties to stalk or harass the alleged victim. The defendant can post online and encourage others to harass, annoy, or seek revenge against the alleged victim.

Generally, a third party can harass the alleged victim in the following ways:

  • Making derogatory comments about the victim.
  • Sending unsolicited letters or emails with obscene or threatening messages.
  • Going to the victim’s physical address.
  • Sending offensive materials (usually graphic and pornographic) to the complainant.

The defendant does not need to stalk or harass the complainant to be convicted of this crime. You only need to offer details that will motivate a third party to injure, harass, or annoy the victim.

Some behaviors that can result in Penal Code 653.2 criminal charges include the following:

  • Sharing the victim’s address (physical or email) and encouraging others to help you teach the victim a lesson.
  • Posting defamatory details about the complainant or encouraging other people to do so, regardless of whether the information is accurate.
  • Posting a fake ad like one asking for sex and leaving the alleged victim’s contact details there.
  • Sending harmful information to the victim’s employer to shame the victim or get them fired.
  • Sharing compromising details (information about a health condition or sexually explicit content) of an identifiable person on social media intending third parties will use the information to annoy the alleged victim.
  • Posting hyperlinks with defamatory information.
  • Publishing it on a webpage.
  • Making available for downloading personal identifying information, including the other person’s digital images.

Harassment in this context means a knowing and intentional course of behavior directed at a specific individual that a reasonable person would deem seriously annoying, terrorizing, tormenting, or alarming the person and that serves illegitimate purposes.

How Penal Code 653.2 PC is Related to Domestic Violence

Violation of Penal Code 653.2 is a growing concern at home, affecting most family members and intimate partners because the internet is accessible to everybody. Typically, most individuals who engage in this type of domestic violence (DV) crime seek vengeance after heated arguments or disputes. Other motivations that could lead a defendant to violate Penal Code 653.2 include the following:

  • Harassing the victim.
  • Shaming the alleged victim online.
  • Vigilante.
  • For coercion or extortion.

PC 13700 defines domestic violence as a crime that involves abuse to a family member or intimate partner through the intentional or willful application of:

  • Force or
  • Fear to the individual.

DV is not limited to conduct that results in physical harm. Indirect cyber harassment is emotional abuse since it deflates the victim’s self-worth and self-esteem. In indirect cyber harassment, it is not the accused who causes the victim imminent uninvited physical contact or harassing but other parties accessing the details online.

An intimate partner is defined as:

  • A former or current spouse.
  • A former or current registered domestic partner.
  • A former or current fiancé(e).
  • A former or current cohabitant (live-in romantic partner).
  • An individual with whom you have or has had a baby.
  • A person you are dating or was previously in a dating relationship.

Other victims of domestic violence include:

  • The defendant’s child, or
  • Any other individual related to the accused by blood (consanguinity) or marriage (affinity) within the second degree, including siblings, half-siblings, step-siblings, grandchildren, child parents, uncles, aunts, nieces, and nephews.

Facts of the Crime

Before convicting you of Penal Code 653.2, the prosecutor should prove the specific engagements and your intent when violating the law beyond a reasonable doubt. The facts of the crime include the following:

You Used Electronic Devices to Violate the Law

Since Penal Code Section 653.2 PC involves releasing harmful information online, the prosecution must prove that you broke the law using an electronic device. They must establish that you used a gadget that transmits data online.

The prosecution will use the information gathered during their investigation to verify electronic device use. For instance, they can retrieve the browsing history and access all websites you visited before posting the details that compromised your relative’s or intimate partner’s safety and privacy. Additionally, activity in your device’s gallery and texts can reveal more information, particularly if you sent the victim threats before posting images or releasing information.

An electronic communication device can include any of the following:

  • Telephone.
  • Cell phone.
  • Computer.
  • Internet website or page.
  • Personal data assistant (PDA).
  • Video recorder.
  • Fax machine.

The Details You Shared Could Negatively Affect the Victim

The persecution should prove a reasonable likelihood of your posted message attracting reactions from strangers. When considering this fact of the offense, harmful information can include any detail that could lead the public to the victim’s workplace, school, or home or expose their identity. In adverse instances, you can be convicted of sharing the identity of the victim’s immediate relatives or children, exposing them to harassment, physical harm, or ridicule.

The prosecutor can introduce the alleged victim as a witness to testify about the pain and harassment they have undergone since you released the information online.

Your Posted the Harmful Information Online Without the Victim’s Consent

Typically, victims of indirect cyberharassment do not permit the conduct. Nevertheless, it is wrong for the prosecution to jump to conclusions and break the justice rule requiring the defendant to remain innocent until proven guilty.

The evidence originates from the crime witnesses and the victim’s witness statements. For instance, if your niece saw you distribute hyperlinks with harmful information online, they could testify against you in court.

Another evidential source can originate from your electronic device, whether it belongs to you or not. Suppose you hacked your intimate partner’s or relative’s laptop or phone by installing malware that granted you access to the gadget or disabling their password. In this case, the prosecution will use this information to prove the victim neither permitted you to use their device nor post harmful material.

The prosecution can also file charges based on the victim’s reaction to your post. They can present evidence of the victim questioning why you posted the harmful information or asking you to take the details down as evidence of the absence of consent. The victim’s public comments are also proof.

You Intended the Alleged Victim to Fear for Their Safety

The prosecutor should also demonstrate that you planned to instill reasonable fear in your relative by posting or publishing harmful material. The conduct that could verify your intention includes threatening the victim before posting this content. Your threat can consist of your intent, mainly if you told the victim they would suffer harassment, harm, or ridicule from your post.

Generally, the threat stems from the victim’s failure to adhere to the defendant’s demand or malicious intentions, typical in domestic violence cases.

Also, the prosecution can collect evidence from your post and understand the intentions of your content. For instance, if you posted your loved one’s physical address, phone number, or vehicle registration number, your relative would likely fear for their safety.

The Personal Identifying Information or Message You Shared Would Likely Incite or Produce Unwanted Physical Injury, Contact, or Harassment

The prosecution must prove that the defendant had malicious or ill intentions towards their relative’s wellbeing by exposing them to harm from family members, friends, or strangers. Typically, the posted harmful information is incorrect, and the subject matter can be blown out of proportion, invoking more volatile reactions that harm the victim.

The prosecutor will review your posted information to infer your motives, particularly if you mentioned the complainant’s negative attributes in your post. For instance, accusing the individual of marital infidelity and indicating that they deserve the hate can invite harassing and annoying comments, mainly if they are a public figure.

Penalties and Consequences of Indirect Cyber-Harassment

Penal Code Section 653.2 PC is a California misdemeanor. It is punishable by the following penalties:

  • Misdemeanor/summary probation.
  • A one-year county jail sentence.
  • $1,000 in fines.

If the complainant is your intimate partner or relative, the judge could impose probation conditions per PC 1203.97, including the following:

  • A three-year restraining duration.
  • A protective order that stops you from contacting the victim.
  • Paying more than $500 in fines and court assessment fees.
  • Compulsory enrollment and completion of a 52-week batterer program.

You should also regularly attend court hearings to monitor your progress on the court-ordered batterer’s program and probation. Failure to abide by your probation terms and conditions is a probation violation, and you are subject to additional jail time and fines.

Fighting PC 653.2 Criminal Charges

Penal Code Section 653.2 is an intentional offense. Therefore, the most significant legal defense involves proving that the defendant did not intend to instigate the alleged victim's harassment or fear by third parties. Typically, establishing intent is challenging for prosecutors.

You can prove the absence of intent if:

Your Loved One Posted their Details

Suppose your relative or intimate partner has posted online information that somebody else can use to stalk them or commit a computer-related crime. In that case, the judge cannot convict you of this crime. Most social media platforms request the user's identifying details, including:

  • Name,
  • Birthday,
  • Names of relatives,
  • Email address,
  • Telephone number, and
  • Current residence.

If your relative or intimate partner leaves the details accessible to the public, the court cannot hold you accountable for any resulting harassment.

False Accusation

A false accusation could arise when another person engages in doxing like you. For example, if somebody else has clone accounts identical to yours and uses them to dox your loved one, you could be convicted of an offense you did not commit.

Moreover, mistaken identity can result in false allegations when your loved one believes you released their details online. The prosecutor cannot find you guilty of criminal activity if they cannot present enough proof against you.

Finally, false accusations can originate from the “victim’s” desire to seek vengeance for what you allegedly did. If the complainant has your gadget, they can release their harmful information online and report you to the police.

Do not think the judge will favor you because you did not violate the law. Consider hiring a defense lawyer. The criminal defense counsel can use the following evidence to fight the false allegations:

  • Audio recordings.
  • Video recording.
  • Track social media activity, including your deleted messages.

Hacking as a Legal Defense

A hacker can access another person’s networking account or computer and post their identifying information online.

They can also create counterfeit emails or accounts in your name or take charge of your networking accounts and use them to release harmful information about your loved one on your page. It could result in a wrongful arrest and conviction for an offense you did not commit.

Sometimes you can dismiss the charges. Nonetheless, if you are convicted, you should avoid contacting the victim, comply with your probation terms, and bring an appeal to reduce the life-altering consequences and penalties of a criminal conviction.

Police Misconduct

Typically, police misconduct is classified into two.

The first type involves failing to read your Miranda warning, while the other involves illegal search and seizure.

The arresting police officer should read you the Miranda warning before interrogating you. If they fail to do so, the court will dismiss the evidence gathered.

On the flip side, illegal search and seizure is an entitlement that requires investigators to obtain a search warrant before investigating you or your property. The court will dismiss any evidence collected using an illegal search warrant.

The fact that law enforcers violated your entitlement does not mean the court will dismiss your charges. The prosecution will determine whether to file a less severe crime or impose lenient penalties.

Involuntary Intoxication

Arguing that you were intoxicated is not a viable defense unless coerced.

Involuntary intoxication happens when you are drugged. The jury will assume that involuntary intoxication influenced your conduct.

Crimes Related to PC 653.2

Discussed below are crimes that the prosecution team can charge instead of or alongside indirect internet harassment.

Annoying Texts, Phone Calls, and Emails

PC 653m bans making an obscene phone call in a sequence of repeated telephone calls to harass or annoy the call’s recipient. It also entails sending annoying messages and emails.

A violation of PC 653m is a misdemeanor. It is punishable by six months in jail and a thousand-dollar fine. The judge can also place you on summary probation, which requires you to complete a counseling program.

Revenge Porn

PC 647(j)(4) involves intentionally distributing an image of the intimate parts of another identifiable individual or your photo of you engaging in oral copulation, sexual intercourse, or sexual penetration, and there was an understanding between you and the other party that the sexual or nude photos would remain confidential. You knew or should have known that the distribution would cause the other party's and the other person's emotional distress.

The crime is a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of one thousand dollars and six months in jail. The judge can enhance these penalties to a year in county jail and a $2,000 fine if the alleged victim is a minor.

Criminal Threats

PC 422 defines criminal threats as threats of great bodily injury or death intended to place an alleged victim in reasonable fear for their safety and that of their loved ones.

It is a California wobbler, and the prosecution team can either charge you with a California felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the facts of the case. If convicted of a misdemeanor, you face a year in jail, and a felony carries four years in prison. 

Find Seasoned Legal Representation Near Me

Posting harmful information about your relative or intimate partner to allow third parties to stalk or harass the alleged victim can have devastating effects. For years, victims of electronic cyber harassment and domestic violence-related electronic cyber harassment did not have options. PC 653.2 makes it a crime, and its penalties can significantly impact your life and hinder your personal and professional goals.

Darwish Law brings many years of experience to the firm’s effective and dedicated legal advocacy. Our skilled team can work aggressively to ensure you increase your chances of obtaining a favorable case outcome. Please contact us at 714-887-4810 to schedule a free appointment. We are dedicated to fighting for the rights and freedom of Santa Ana residents.