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Home blog Criminal Defense When Online Messages Violate the Law

When Online Messages Violate the Law

By Michael Guisti on March 4, 2021

It is almost impossible to go somewhere on the internet without encountering a massive argument. Users often use their anonymity to justify virtually screaming at each other on a variety of topics, ranging from their political views to their opinions on movies. In most cases, the arguments are harmless, but when these messages turn into online harassment or criminal threats, then it becomes a matter for the courts.

How Are Online Threats Charged?

Many online users falsely believe the freedom of speech and First Amendment rights protect anything they say online, but that is simply not true. Our courts have created legal exceptions for hate speech, defamation, incitement to commit violent acts, and threats of violence. The last is extremely common on the internet, as anonymous users can easily send hateful and threatening messages to each other with a few clicks. While every website has its own codes of conduct and procedures for threats, such as banning or blocking offenders, district attorneys can pursue criminal charges if they believe the threats are genuine.

Criminal threats are defined under California Penal Code 422 as the act of willingly threatening to commit a crime that could harm or kill another person. This law includes verbal threats as well as threatening letters, emails, text messages, phone calls, or online messages over social media, chat clients, or online forums. The law does not care if the offender was capable of or intended to carry out the threat, only that the threat appeared genuine to the victim. If the offender intended to make the victim believe the threat was real, then he or she could be charged with criminal threats.

Multiple messages sent to a victim, whether through one online platform or multiple, can also lead to charges of cyberstalking or online harassment depending on the specifics of the messages. At the end of the day, even a single message could result in serious criminal charges.

Consequences of Threatening DMs

Online threats can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony based on the nature of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history. For first-time offenders, the charge will likely be a misdemeanor, which can result in:

  • Up to one year in county jail;
  • Up to $1,000 in fines;
  • A restraining order; and/or
  • Summary probation.

If the defendant has prior charges of stalking, harassment, or sending threatening messages, then he or she could be charged with a felony. Felony criminal threats are punished with:

  • Up to three years in state prison;
  • Up to $10,000 in fines;
  • A strike according to California’s three-strike laws;
  • Restraining order; and/or
  • Felony probation.

Having sent multiple messages can increase the penalties for this charge.

How Law Office of Michael L. Guisti Can Defend You

The internet is filled with divided communities, and it seems like every day there is a new controversy on Twitter or Facebook. Tempers can rise quickly, sparking angry, thoughtless messages. If you are facing charges for something you said online, you should contact an Orange County internet crimes defense attorney at Law Office of Michael L. Guisti as soon as possible. The prosecution can easily invade your privacy to access your messages and build a case against you. You need an equally thorough and skilled defense attorney to protect your future.

Our law firm can review the details of your case in a free case evaluation and develop several defenses, including:

  • You had no intentions of making the victim fear for their safety.
  • No reasonable person would interpret your messages as threatening.
  • Someone else used your computer or phone to send the messages.
  • The alleged victim fabricated evidence against you with a photo-editing program.

Call us at (714) 530-9690 or toll-free (888) 478-8999 to speak with an experienced defense team at Law Office of Michael L. Guisti.

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Posted in: Criminal Defense

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