In response to the increase in the number of teenagers that have committed suffering as a result of online harassment and bullying, several states have passed laws criminalizing cyber-harassment, cyber-bullying, and cyber-stalking. New Jersey has long advocated for anti-bullying and anti-harassment laws. Just recently, in fact, New Jersey passed the State’s first law that criminalizes cyber-harassment to address this increasing problem. The new law passed both houses of the New Jersey legislature unanimously and, on January 21, 2014, was signed into law by Chris Christie.
New Jersey’s cyber-harassment law prohibits the following:
• Threats to harm a person or their property;
• The posting or sending of any lewd or obscene material to or about a person; or
• Threats to commit a crime against a person or their property.
Before the enactment of this law, the State could only charge a defendant with the offense of harassment, which is a disorderly persons offense. The new law, however, makes it a fourth degree crime to use an electronic device or a social networking site to harass another. Fourth degree crimes in New Jersey are subject to up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.00.
Moreover, if the defendant is 21 years or older and the victim is a minor, the law makes it a third degree crime, which is punishable by three to five years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $15,000.00. The new law, in fact, was actually inspired by an out-of-state case falling within the circumstances that would qualify treating this offense as a crime of the third degree. That case involved a 49-year-old woman from Missouri who impersonated a minor and harassed a 13-year-old girl. As a result of the harassment, the girl committed suicide.
For defendants under the age of 16, the court may sentence the juvenile to attend a class or training program to remedy to bullying behavior and to teach the dangers of bullying, accompanied by a parent or guardian. If the parent or guardian does not comply, they may be considered a disorderly person and be subject to fines.
If you or your loved one has been charged with this offense, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Randolph H. Wolf has over thirty years of experience representing individuals charged with harassment-related offenses. Contact us today at (732) 741-4448 for a free consult.