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Cyber Harassment Laws in Ohio

These days, it’s important to be careful of anything you do or say online. The slightest misstep can be used against you, damaging your reputation and even your career. Worse still, you could face criminal harassment charges for the smallest misstep.

In this article, we will define Ohio’s cyberstalking and harassment laws, explore the penalties of a guilty conviction, and provide defenses you can use in court.

Defining Cyberstalking and Harassment

In Ohio, it’s unlawful to willfully cause harm to an individual or their family using telecommunications. This includes text messages, DMs, posts to social media, or even phone calls. Telecommunications can include statements, images, videos, or any other harmful content.

When it comes to stalking and harassment, there should be an element of persistence in the accusation. One insulting text message does not qualify as harassing someone.

Ohio’s Cyberstalking Penalties

Punishments depend on the number of offenses. A first-time offense is charged as a first-degree misdemeanor. The accused could serve as much as 180 days in jail and pay fines as high as $1,000.

Further offenses will be charged as fifth-degree felonies. A guilty sentence is punishable by 6 to 12 months in jail and fines as high as $2,500.

Defenses Against a Cyberstalking or Cyber-Harassment Charge

If you’ve been accused of this crime, talk to your attorney about one of these potential defenses in your case.

You Were Exercising Free Speech

Genuine criticisms are not the same as harassment. Perhaps you point out the weak political opinion of an online friend, or maybe you have a negative reaction to your boss’s new work policy. Regardless of how negative your online reaction is, this reaction does not qualify as harassment. Free speech allows and assumes that people may hurt one another’s feelings, and that ego-blow is not a crime.

Your Behavior Was Not Harassment

Imagine a situation where you simply go too far. You blast someone online, saying inappropriate, harmful things. Afterward, you regret this decision and chalk it up to a mistake. You learn from this experience and try to move forward, only to suddenly find yourself accused of harassment.

Whether your online behavior is unkind or even immoral has no bearing on whether it is illegal. Persistence is a key element of any harassment charge. If you had a lapse in judgement and posted something rage-filled online once, this is not harassment. You can demonstrate to the court that the behavior did not continue, even revealing that you deleted the initial post or reached out to apologize.

You Didn’t Intend to Harm Anyone

We can’t control how our actions affect someone else. Sometimes, a flippant, unkind word can haunt someone for days, regardless of the speaker’s intentions. Something you said online or in a text could be easily misinterpreted. Maybe it dramatically affected the other person, but you completely forgot about it. Beyond emotional impact, people can suffer real-world consequences for bad internet behavior. Perhaps your offhanded statement led to problems in someone’s job or marriage.

We don’t mean to encourage or disregard bad behavior online, and we don’t wish to invalidate the experiences of the victim. However, when considering what is legal harassment, intent is important. To you, you said something thoughtless. To them, this comment yielded a cascade of negative results. You can explain to the court that you were not out to sabotage someone or ruin their lives. You can express your genuine regret for the consequences of your online behavior, while simultaneously revealing that your actions were not meant to be harassing or cause damage.

Cyberstalking vs. Cyberbullying

Adults could be accused of cyberbullying in Ohio, but this crime is generally reserved for minors. If your child is accused of cyberbullying, the authorities may hand the matter over to the schools. The school will then implement disciplinary actions to correct the behavior.

If the cyberbullying allegations reach a criminal level, your minor child must face the juvenile justice system. Depending on the severity of the crime, cyberbullying will probably not result in incarceration in a juvenile detention center. It will still affect your child’s freedom, however. They could be ordered to undergo mental health evaluations and treatment. They may be sentenced to community service, educational programs, curfews, monitoring, etc.

Your child has a right to a defense just as any adult would. If they have been accused of criminal cyberbullying, reach out to an attorney for help.

Our firm is ready to help defend you against cybercrime allegations. For a free consultation, call us at (216) 928-7700, or contact us online.