Is Cyberbullying a Crime?
The U.S. government’s stopbullying.gov website defines “cyberbullying” as bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Essentially, the term “cyberbullying” describes the act of harassing, threatening or intimidating another via electronic means such as cell phones, computers, tablets, social media platforms, websites, and text messaging. This behavior is illegal in Florida, and may be cause for criminal charges.
The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up For All Students Act
The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up For All Students Act prohibits bullying or harassment of any student or employee of a public K-12 educational institution. The law specifically includes cyberbullying in its prohibition. Bullying under the statute means “systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress” and may include:
- Social exclusion;
- Physical violence;
- Sexual, religious or racial harassment;
- Public or private humiliation; or
- Destruction of property.
The statute defines harassment as threatening, insulting or dehumanizing conduct (including verbal, written, or physical) that:
- Places a student in reasonable fear of personal harm or property damage;
- Substantially interferes with a student’s educational performance, opportunities, or benefits; or
- Substantially disrupts a school’s orderly operation.
By the statute’s terms, each school district must adopt a detailed policy prohibiting bullying and harassment that meets a lengthy list of requirements. But, although the law prohibits cyberbullying, it does not impose criminal penalties for the behavior. That task falls to another law.
Florida’s stalking law expressly encompasses cyberstalking, and provides prosecutors with a legal avenue to criminally punish cyberbullying behavior. Cyberstalking is engaging in a course of conduct using electronic communication that is directed at a specific person, causing that person substantial emotional distress and serving no legitimate purpose. Cyberstalking alone is a misdemeanor. Cyberstalking coupled with a credible threat of harm is a felony.
Criminal prosecution of minors for cyberbullying
In the public imagination, the typical cyberbully is a teenager. A 2013 Florida case garnered national headlines when two girls aged 14 and 12 were charged with aggravated stalking for allegedly cyberbullying another 12-year-old who killed herself. Although the case was heralded as a “tipping point” leading law enforcement to take these types of cases more seriously, a month later CNN.com reported that the charges were dropped because of a lack of evidence. Thereafter, the case was handled confidentially by the juvenile court.
In another case to make the news, a 15-year-old girl in Hillside, New Jersey, was sentenced to one year of probation after pleading guilty to cyber harassment. Her probation conditions included a requirement to complete an anger management course and an anti-cyberbullying training course, as well as 15 hours of community service.
Cyberbullying and harassment are a significant problem, yet the question remains whether criminal prosecution, especially of juveniles, is the most effective way to prevent such behavior.
Consult an Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you or someone you love has been accused of criminal cyberbullying, you need an experienced and dedicated criminal defense lawyer in your corner. Especially if your child is the one facing the charges, a criminal conviction can have a life-long impact. The skilled criminal defense lawyers of The Baez Law Firm have successfully represented both adults and juveniles in a wide range of criminal matters in Orlando, Tampa, Miami, and throughout Florida. Contact us today for a consultation about your case.