Most people are familiar with the concept of stalking: just the word “stalking” tends to evoke a mental image of a hooded man following a woman, or a deranged lunatic obsessed with a celebrity. In the modern age, however, stalking can occur online, via text message, over peer to peer networks, or over video messaging.
In an attempt to keep up with the changing landscape of technology, The North Carolina General Assembly has recognized “cyberstalking” as a criminal offense. Punishable as a Class 2 misdemeanor, a violation of the cyberstalking statute carries a maximum punishment of 60 days.
Statute 14-196.3 actually creates 3 separate grounds that qualify as cyberstalking:
- using electronic mail (email) or electronic communication to threaten to inflict bodily harm or property damage or to extort money;
- repeatedly using electronic mail or electronic communication for harassment; and
- using electronic mail or electronic communication to send a false statement.
Interestingly, unlike stalking, only the 2nd ground requires that more than a single transmission occur. For example, if I send a text-message to John stating that “I’m going to key your car”, and never text or talk to John again, I can still be charged with cyberstalking. This is because I met all of the statutory requirements: I used electronic communication to communicate the threat that I was going to inflict property damage. This is different than standard stalking, as the statutory definition requires that some act be done on more than one occasion.
Perhaps even more strange is the fact that the statute criminalizes the act of aiding or abetting the offense. To use the example above, if I borrowed Jake’s phone to send the same message, and Jake knew what I was going to send or that I had the intention of making a threat, Jake himself could be found guilty of cyberstalking.
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Robert Gilligan was raised in Waynesville, NC, and joined the U.S. Air Force right out of high school. After being honorably discharged after 6 years, Robert attended Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, MI. Robert was highly involved in the University’s law student groups, being the Dean of the Delta Theta Phi chapter, Treasurer of the Environmental Law Society, President of the Law Student Veteran’s Organization, as well as a member of dozens of other agencies. Robert interned with the 3rd Circuit Court, Family Division, and later worked as an associate for a number of solo practitioners in the Metro-Detroit area practicing in areas of law ranging from Bankruptcy to criminal defense. In 2013, Robert relocated back to Waynesville, NC where he lives with his wife, Marissa, and daughter, Claire. Robert’s practice areas include family law, criminal defense, and estate planning.