Location:
COMPUTER CRIME; CRIMINAL LAW;

OLR Research Report


February 26, 2009

 

2009-R-0121

CHARGES AND CONVICTIONS UNDER CYBERSTALKING LAWS

By: Laura Cummings, Legislative Fellow

You asked for data on enforcement of cyberstalking laws in various states, including: (1) the number of persons charged and convicted under the law, (2) the average sentence, and (3) any problems encountered.

SUMMARY

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, cyberstalking generally refers to use of the Internet or other electronic communication devices to harass, threaten, or intimidate another person. Forty-six states, including Connecticut, have adopted stalking or harassment laws that explicitly incorporate electronic forms of communication, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Six of these states have adopted distinct statutes specifically targeting cyberstalking: Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Washington.

Of these six states, we were able to get statistical data only from North Carolina, which reported that since the law took effect in 2000, 1,228 people have been charged and 172 convicted under its law. No sentencing information is available. Mississippi does not collect cyberstalking data, but did provide information on problems with the law. According to the attorney general, his office will often not charge

offenders under the cyberstalking statute because of the number and difficulty of the elements that must be proven (see Miss. Code Ann. 97-45-15 attached). For example, the attorney general counted seven separate elements that must be proven for conviction under section (1)(c) of the statute. He said the need to show knowledge and intent were the most difficult aspects of the law.

Illinois does not maintain information on cyberstalking arrests and convictions separately from other stalking and harassment laws, and Louisiana does not maintain cyberstalking data. We could not get any information from Rhode Island and Washington because they charge a fee for collecting and producing data.

NORTH CAROLINA

North Carolina's cyberstalking law took effect on December 1, 2000 (N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-196.3). It makes it illegal to electronically communicate language threatening to damage property or injure another person, or the person's relative or dependent, with the intent of abusing, harassing, embarrassing, or extorting money or things of value.

It is also illegal to (1) electronically communicate any knowingly false statement regarding the death, injury, or illness of the person, or any member of the person's family, with the intent to abuse, harass, or embarrass or (2) allow an electronic device under the person's control to be used for any prohibited act under the cyberstalking law.

A violation is a Class 2 misdemeanor, which carries a prison term of up to 60 days, depending on the offender's prior record as follows:

1. no prior conviction: one to 30 days imprisonment,

2. one to four prior convictions: one to 45 days imprisonment, and

3. five or more prior convictions: one to 60 days imprisonment.

The sentencing may also include a fine of up to $1,000 (N.C. Gen. Stat. 15A-1340.23).

Table 1 shows the number of people charged and convicted under the law, beginning in 2001.

Table 1: Cyberstalking Charges and Convictions in North Carolina

Year

Number of Persons Charged

Number of Persons Convicted

2001

28

4

2002

61

10

2003

44

13

2004

48

11

2005

94

16

2006

155

30

2007

247

36

2008

400

41

Total

1,077

161

*Source: North Carolina Research and Planning Office

Only 14.9% of offenders charged under the cyberstalking law were convicted. This is because offenders often plead to lesser offenses, or charges are dropped, according to the North Carolina Research and Planning Office.

LC:ak