Prosecuting or Suing for Internet Misconduct
Internet misconduct takes many different forms in the state of Washington, including cyber-harassment, cat-fishing, and cyber-stalking. Some people who engage in these behaviors do not realize that their presence and activities online are recorded or documented. Messages on the Internet can be traced and may exist for a long time, which can make the harm greater, but they can also make it easier to prosecute or sue for Internet misconduct. Often, emotions run high, and things can get out of hand. Sometimes the victim of the misconduct tries to obtain a civil protection order, which opens the door to further criminal prosecution. Whether you are suing for Internet misconduct or defending against criminal charges, the Seattle civil protection order lawyers at Blair & Kim may be able to help you.Understanding the Process of Prosecuting or Suing for Internet Misconduct
It may be possible for online harassment to become the subject of a criminal prosecution, a civil lawsuit, or a civil protection order. In some cases, a civil protection order fails to stop the harassment, and new criminal charges may be brought.
Getting a protection order in place can make any future cyber-harassment or cyberstalking subject to greater penalties. Harassing messages sometimes rise to a level at which you can sue a harasser or abuser in civil court. A victim may also have a claim for defamation or libel in connection with Internet misconduct, if the harassing messages were sent to third parties. The burden of proof in civil cases is lower than it is in criminal cases. Proof must be made by a preponderance of the evidence, which simply means that something is more likely than not. In contrast, a criminal case must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil lawsuit, the remedy is money damages and possibly an injunction.
In Washington, a prosecutor can establish harassment under 9a.46.020 if they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that: (1) the defendant, without lawful authority, (2) knowingly threatened (3) to injure someone, to injure their property, to subject the threatened person to restraint or confinement, or to maliciously perform an act intended to substantially hurt the threatened person. Usually, this is a gross misdemeanor, but it can become a class C felony if there is a threat to kill or a prior criminal conviction for harassment of the same person, or if the harassment is in retaliation for the performance of a public servant's job duties or testimony as a witness.
Harassment can take place online. Generally, the harassing messages must be of a nature such that a reasonable person would experience substantial distress, and the purported victim must actually suffer emotional distress. If the concern is cyberbullying of a child through online harassment, the court will determine whether a reasonable parent would be afraid for their child's wellbeing.
There may be civil remedies for Internet harassment as well. A person who is being harassed online may be able to retain an attorney to seek an anti-harassment order, one type of civil protection order. Harassment for the purposes of a protective order is a series of acts that seriously harass, annoy, or alarm someone without serving a legitimate purpose and are such that they would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress.Cyberstalking
Cyberstalking addresses and criminalizes Internet misconduct in a specific, separate statute. A prosecutor can establish cyberstalking if he can prove that the defendant intended to harass, torment, embarrass, or intimidate another person, and under circumstances not considered telephone harassment, electronically communicated to someone or a third party obscene words or images, suggested the commission of a lewd or lascivious act, anonymously contacted the person, or threatened to injure the person or property of the person or a family member of the person being contacted. For example, if someone begins emailing you with threats to kill you via email and sends sexual memes to you via social media, this may be charged as cyberstalking.
Cyberstalking is usually charged as a gross misdemeanor. However, it can be charged as a Class C felony in situations in which the cyberstalker has a prior harassment conviction involving the victim, a family member of the victim, or someone named in an anti-harassment order, or when the cyberstalker threatens to kill someone. It may be possible to get a civil protection order to guard against a cyberstalker, and a violation of a civil protection order opens up a cyberstalker to harsher criminal penalties. A civil protection order can require the cyberstalker to stop contacting the victim or require the cyberstalker to stay away from the victim and their home, work, or school.Consult a Protection Order Attorney in Seattle
If you need to know more about prosecuting or suing for Internet misconduct, you should retain a skillful attorney who understands the impact of these situations in both criminal and family law cases. Our firm has both a family law attorney and a criminal defense attorney, who can work together to develop a strong strategy for your case. We represent clients throughout King County, including in Seattle, Redmond, Kirkland, and Bellevue. Call us at (206) 622-6562 or contact us via our online form.