Domestic violence involves several actions the defendant does to their victim. Numerous domestic violence cases are reported daily in California, including domestic battery, child abuse, and posting harmful information about another person. Usually, the harmful information you post translates to harassment, especially if it attracts hateful reactions from other online users.
Facing charges for posting harmful information online attracts harsh punishments and other consequences if found guilty. While the charges pressed against you may have reasonable grounds to warrant a criminal trial, you need to contact a criminal defense lawyer who could help you present legal defenses for the crime in court proceedings.
Moreover, getting in touch with an experienced criminal defense attorney will increase your chances of success. He/she provides professional guidance and assistance on gathering evidence and required documents to support your arguments.
At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we have helped many clients with their criminal court proceedings for domestic violence accusations. With our professional team of attorneys, expect excellent legal support. We work to personalize your case and build solid defenses.
Defining the Crime of Posting Harmful Information on the Internet
Posting material that could bring harm to the subject matter of the information is an offense provided for under section 653.2 of the California Penal Code. The statutory provisions state the offense as indirect electronic harassment. The defendant exposes the crime victim to danger from posting too much information on the victim's personal life and other details. Since the crime is indirect harassment, there need not be actual physical contact between you and the crime victim, as long as you have put out the harmful information on the internet.
Moreover, the prosecutor may find you guilty even if the victim does not undergo harassment from anyone who saw the internet content. The guilt is established if there was a potential danger linked to your act of putting up the information. You are also likely to face the consequences of posting harmful material on the internet, even if the crime victim did not know about posted information.
The rationale behind the imposition of guilt in these circumstances is that you will have satisfied the two main elements in a criminal case; the criminal intent and the crime's actual commission. As long as the prosecutor succeeds in showing the intentions you had when posting harmful information, and also shows that you were the person guilty of posting it, you will be responsible for the offense at its outcomes.
The two main crime requirements break down into more specific crime elements to distinguish it from any other form of domestic abuse. The prosecutor must show the specific engagements you undertook and your state of mind when performing these actions for him/her to satisfy the burden of proof imposed on him/her. Therefore, the prosecutor cannot bring in details of other offenses like a battery in your charges. They are irrelevant to your action of posting harmful content about the crime victim on the internet. The elements of crime in the offense are:
1. You Used an Electronic Device to Perform the Unlawful Actions
Since the crime is specific to posting harmful details on the internet, the prosecutor must show that you involved yourself in illegal activities using electronic devices. In doing so, he/she will show that you interacted with gadgets that can transmit data online and expose the information to many people online.
Typically, the prosecutor will rely on the data collected during the investigation period to prove your use of an electronic device. For example, he/she can retrieve your browsing history and access the sites you came across as you posted the information that compromised the victim's privacy and safety. Moreover, texts and recent activity in the device's gallery can also reveal additional information, primarily if you had sent threats to the victim before releasing the information, and if you posted the person's images.
The electronic devices relevant to investigations for this offense must have connectivity to the internet, which is among the primary details related to the crime. Thus, the electronic devices considered during your case to establish whether you are guilty of the offense include:
These are the most commonly used devices to effect the crime of posting harmful material online, especially if they are smartphones. With the numerous functions available in a cell phone, you can easily access different sites at once and retrieve images and other files stored in the phone's internal or online storage systems to affect your intentions. For example, suppose you expose the crime victim by posting a screenshotted photo of them confessing to bribery. In that case, you can retrieve the image from the gallery or the storage device system.
A computer also offers a wide range of internet actions, including photoshop applications, access to social media platforms, and access to personal files that you can post effortlessly online. Subsequently, laptops or desktop computers can also serve the defendant's intentions by providing a flexible workspace.
Some video recorders also have additional features that let them post material online directly or connect the recorder to a secondary device for a fast connection to the internet. Therefore, an accused may collect video footage of the crime victim engaging in controversial behavior that may attract hateful comments and general public members' threats. In most cases, the defendant waits for an instance where the crime victim is agitated enough to make a vulgar comment and then post such content online. In return, the person on the video may be on the receiving end of harmful threats that can endanger his/her safety.
Sending faxes containing harmful material to others also amounts to indirect harassment, primarily if the sent material could yield irreversible harm to the person mentioned in the content. Since most modern fax machines operate on WI-FI connection, you, as the defendant, may have a reasonable chance to spread the harmful information to numerous recipients at once, leaving the victim exposed to multiple sources of hateful or annoying reactions.
The unlawful activities you are likely to use any of the mentioned devices include publishing typed information about the crime victim by posting it on social media platforms. Moreover, you may distribute the information by sending hyperlinks that connect the recipients of the information to a website where the details are to be found. Sending the information electronically through emails is also a common occurrence, especially if you aim at instigating harassment to the victim from close friends, family, and the victim's workmates.
Regardless of the gadget and means of distributing the information used, the prosecutor must show that you handled each of the operations personally by typing the information and sending it to different recipients through the internet. The investigating officers may provide the prosecutor with evidence of your indulgence by retrieving your electronic device and scanning it for helpful clues that will appear in the prosecutor's court presentation.
2. The Information You Shared Could Put the Victim in Harm's Way.
The prosecutor will also focus on dissecting the kind of information you shared online to show that it could harm the alleged victim by attracting agitation, spite, and harassment from the public members. Therefore, the prosecutor's proof should show a reasonable possibility of the message you posted, attracting negative reactions from different people who may not know the crime victim personally.
When considering this element of the crime, harmful information includes any details that could easily lead members of the public to the victim's home, school, or workplace or expose his/her identity to people. Therefore, the exposure will expose the person to aggression and harassment to people he/she may not know.
For example, suppose you shared details of the complainant's personal views on controversial topics that are sure to evoke anger in some people, and included his/her address in the internet post. In that case, the person in question may become exposed to danger from angry reactors, which could attack him/her at home, at work, or even when the victim of your crime is out in public.
In other instances, sharing information that may damage the person's reputation, including sexual content, could also bring the victim a lot of annoyance and harassment from people who saw the information, mainly because it is private. In adverse cases, you may also be guilty of sharing the identity of the victim's children and immediate relatives who may also be reasonably exposed to the ridicule, harassment, or physical harm caused by the information on the internet.
The prosecutor is also likely to introduce the complainant as a key witness who will provide statements about the harassment he/she has undergone since releasing the harmful information on the internet. Thus, the victim's statements will include the alleged ordeals he/she has been through during social or professional interactions as a result of the unlawful release of their personal information.
3. You Posted the Harmful Information Without the Victim's Permission
Doubtless, most victims of harassment from having harmful information posted about them online do not consent to the action. However, it would be unfair for the prosecutor to make such assumptions. It would defy the rules of natural justice that require an accused to remain innocent until proven guilty. Hence, the prosecutor must prove that the crime victim did not consent to the information you posted online.
The evidence often comes from the complainant's witness statements and other people present when you posted it. For example, suppose your children saw you distributing hyperlinks online to spread the harmful information. In that case, they may also become witnesses to provide corroborative evidence to the other sources the prosecutor presents.
Alternative evidential sources also come from the electronic device you used and whether you owned it. For example, suppose you had to hack the crime victim's phone or laptop by disabling a password or installing malware that granted you access to the device. In that case, the prosecutor will use the information to show that the offense's victim did not allow you to use his/her gadget, nor post the harmful material.
You will also have evidence filed against you based on the victim's reactions to the post. If the prosecutor presents valid comments made by the crime victim asking you to take the information down, or questioning how you could post the harmful details online, it will be proof of the lack of consent. Public comments made by the victim are the primary source of proof. Nevertheless, there may be additional information to show that you posted the material without consent if the prosecutor can retrace your steps in hacking or obtaining harmful information to use against the victim unlawfully.
4. You Wanted the Victim of the Offense to Have a Reasonable Apprehension of their Safety
Moreover, the prosecutor needs to show that you intended to invoke reasonable fear in the victim by posting the harmful material on the internet. The actions that could prove your intentions include making threats to the complaint before posting the content. The threats may include preempting your intentions, especially if you clarify that the victim will suffer harm or harassment from the posted information. In such cases, the threats arise from the victim's failure to comply with your demands, or merely out of malicious intentions common in domestic abuse cases.
Moreover, the prosecutor can source evidence from the posted information and derive your intentions from the words used. For example, if you posted the person's address, his/her vehicle registration number, or even his/her cell phone number, the victim is sure to have a reasonable fear for his/her safety. It will also be sufficient for the prosecutor to prove that you knew the victim would naturally react in fear and that you wanted the person to undergo torment, annoyance, or alarm from the kind of harassment he/she would receive.
5. You Wanted the Victim of the Offense to Face Harassment, Ridicule, or Unwanted Physical Contact from Strangers
Lastly, the prosecutor needs to prove that you had malicious intentions towards the exposed person's well being by exposing him/her to harm from strangers or other close family and friends. By going over the information you posted in court, the prosecutor can infer your intentions, especially if you included very negative attributes about the complainant. For example, accusing the person of promiscuity in marriage and stating that he/she 'deserves all the hate coming their way' can reasonably invite comments that harass, annoy or lead to the complainant's physical harm, primarily if he/she is in public.
In most cases, the posited information is not entirely accurate, meaning that the subject matter may be blown out of proportion to invoke more volatile reactions that harm the complainant. Once the prosecutor succeeds in showing that the information you posted is false, he/she will have proved that you had ulterior motives to make the crime victim suffer psychologically and physically.
Defenses Available for the Crime
After the prosecutor finishes on his/her presentations, your criminal defense lawyer will have a chance to raise legal arguments in defense of your actions. If presented well, the defenses will convince the judge to reduce the penalties you face or push for a complete acquittal. Some defenses available for the offense include:
You Were Intoxicated When Posting the Harmful Material
The defense of intoxication is available for the charge. However, your lawyer must prove that you got intoxicated involuntarily. You will also have to show that you did not know what you were doing after getting intoxicated or that you were too intoxicated to know what you were doing was wrong. Once your lawyer proves these elements of the defense, the judge may allow it.
You Withdrew the Harmful Content
You can also defend your actions by proving that you withdrew the harmful content from the internet upon realizing the harm it would have caused the victim. However, the argument is only applicable if the complainant has not reported actual harm or harassment from the post. If he/she has already experienced negative effects from the harmful information, the defense will not suffice.
There was Police Misconduct in Conducting Investigations
Police misconduct is also common in criminal cases because of the prejudice formed against arrested persons. Consequently, you may face coercion or duress to confess to an unlawful act, even if you genuinely did not engage in it. Misconduct also involves planting evidence against you to help the prosecutor succeed in showing your guilt.
If your defense attorney can prove the alleged police misconduct, the evidence presented will be disregarded to pave the way for a fair trial. Alternatively, you will benefit from acquittal of charges whereby the judge determines that you only confessed to committing the crime under coercion or duress.
Penalties for Posting Harmful Information on the Internet
Once the trial concludes and the judge finds you guilty of the offense, you will receive several punishments for the crime. Usually, posting harmful information on the internet is a misdemeanor in California. Subsequently, you are liable to receive the following sentences:
The California Penal Code states that a guilty party will pay a maximum fine of $1,000 that could be adjusted to a lower amount based on the defenses and mitigating factors your criminal defense attorney presents.
You may also be eligible to serve a jail sentence for up to one year in county jail. Sometimes, you will receive this punishment as the only penalty, while in aggravated cases, the judge may combine paying fine payments and serving jail time.
A Summary Probation
Summary probations are common alternatives to going to jail after facing misdemeanor charges. If the judge provides this option, you will avert a jail sentence and perform several court requirements under a probation officer's supervision. Despite the appealing nature of probation over jail sentences, you will be under strict regulations, leading to probation revocation and mandatory jail sentences when you fail to follow them correctly.
You must follow counseling or therapy to help you reform from domestic violence and abuse among the probational requirements. Depending on your case's circumstances, you may have to attend the sessions with your spouse and children to help fortify the family bond and prevent repetitive abuse.
You also have to undertake community service as a punitive measure that may include cleaning up the roads in your area or volunteering in special care facilities. Probation regulations will also require you to pay restitution to the crime victim from the harm caused, mainly if the person lost his/her job or incurred medical costs from physical and psychological abuse after you posted the harmful information.
Lastly, you will have to honor all court appearances and restraining orders against the crime victim issued during probation. It would help keep reminders or stay in touch with your defense attorney to ensure that you are up to date with all your requirements for completing probation.
Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
When you face arrest or criminal charges for posting harmful information online, it could be devastating for you and your family. The matter becomes even more complicated when you face false allegations or suffer under police misconduct, where you must prove your innocence. Therefore, it is crucial to work with criminal defense attorneys who have your interests at heart.
At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, our experienced team puts your best interests first. Our thorough research and adequate trial preparation will equip you to face the jury and cast doubts to the allegations. If you need criminal defense services in Orange County, California, call us today at 714-262-4833.
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