Cyber-harassment is now it’s own criminal act in New Jersey. Effective January 17, 2014, the New Jersey criminal code now includes a separate and distinct offense for cyber-harassment, targeting online communications meant to harm, annoy, or threaten another. Depending on the age of both the target harassed, as well as the individual(s) making the online statements, the offense can be charged as either a third or fourth degree indictable (felony) offense. Even so, jail time and a criminal record may still be avoided if handled properly.
What is Cyber-Harassment Under NJ Law?
A person commits cyber-harassment much the same as a traditional harassment scenario, which involves a communication with a purpose to harass another, either through a physical threat to inflict injury or commit a crime against the person, or by conveying lewd, indecent or obscene material with such purpose as to emotionally harm another. The law is stated as follows:
N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4.1. Cyber-harassment
a. A person commits the crime of cyber-harassment if, while making a communication in an online capacity via any electronic device or through a social networking site and with the purpose to harass another, the person:
(1) threatens to inflict injury or physical harm to any person or the property of any person;
(2) knowingly sends, posts, comments, requests, suggests, or proposes any lewd, indecent, or obscene material to or about a person with the intent to emotionally harm a reasonable person or place a reasonable person in fear of physical or emotional harm to his person; or
(3) threatens to commit any crime against the person or the person’s property.
Cyber-Harassment as a Fourth Degree Crime
Cyber-harassment, absent any aggravating factors, is a fourth degree indictable (felony) crime. This is significantly more serious than run-of-the-mill harassment charges under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4, which is only a disorderly persons (misdemeanor) offense. Thus, a conviction under fourth degree cyber-harassment would result in a felony record, with maximum* penalties of 18 months in prison, and a fine of up to $10,000.
Cyber-Harassment as a Third Degree Crime
When certain mitigating factors exist, cyber-harassment may be charged as a crime of the third degree. Specifically, cyber-harassment will be charged as a third degree offense when the person committing the offense is 21 years of age or older at the time of the offense and impersonates a minor for the purpose of cyber-harassing a minor. Third degree cyber-harassment is punishable by 3-5 years in prison, and a fine of up to $15,000.
Special Conditions for Juvenile Cyber-Harassment Offenders
If a minor under the age of 16 is found to be delinquent under the cyber-harassment statute, the court may order conditions to be performed by the minor (accompanied by a parent or guardian) including classes or training programs intended to reduce the tendency towards, or bring awareness of the dangers of cyber-harassment.
There is a presumption against incarceration for third- and fourth-degree cyber-harassment, and an experienced cybercrime lawyer may be able to argue a resolution that avoids jail, and many times, may even avoid a criminal record. Contact a cyber-harassment attorney at The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall to find out how our skilled attorneys can help. We can be reached 24/7 at 1 (800) 879-9087 for a free consultation.