The increased internet use in the United States has opened doors for malicious and criminal online activity. Internet crimes could include harassment, cyberstalking, and posting harmful material with the intent to annoy or harm another person. Trying to harm an intimate partner by posting derogatory images or information about them on the internet will attract an arrest and criminal charges for posting harmful information on the internet under California Penal Code 653.2.
A violation of PC 653.2 is a domestic violence crime whose conviction attracts severe legal penalties. Even after you have served your jail time and paid hefty court fines, the consequences of a conviction under this statute may continue to impact your personal and professional life. If you or your loved one faces charges for posting harmful content online, you must enlist and retain the services of a skilled criminal lawyer. Our top-notch attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney have expensive experience defending against domestic violence charges. We offer legal guidance to all our clients battling PC 653.2 charges in Los Angeles, CA.
An Overview of PC 653.2 in California
You commit a crime under California PC 653.2 when you post harmful images or information about an intimate partner or relative on the internet. In the new era of internet use, people put up all sorts of information and can find themselves in legal trouble. California has strict laws on internet use, including:
- Harassment and Stalking. Making threatening statements to other people on the internet is a crime. While it is difficult to determine if a message is threatening, law enforcement officers investigate all reports of cyber harassment.
- Unauthorized Access. Commonly known as hacking, gaining access to another person’s private information may attract criminal charges. Hacking could range from breaking into servers to damaging data or discovering another person’s passwords and using them to obtain their information.
- Social Media Posting. It is a crime to distribute or post information about another person without their consent.
- Personal Data Rights. Using personal data collected by companies on the internet violates someone’s privacy and can result in an arrest and criminal charges.
When you face charges for posting harmful content on the internet, you must understand the crime's elements to build a solid defense. The following are elements that the prosecution must prove to establish your guilt under PC 653.2:
You Posted Harmful Information on the Internet
Committing a crime under this statute begins when you display information harmful to another person on the internet. This element brings two aspects to light. These aspects include the display of harmful information and the use of an electronic device. The electronic devices that are crucial to this statute include:
- Cell phones
- Fax machines
- Video recorders
- Social media platforms
You are Related to the Alleged Victim
Since posting harmful material is a domestic violence offense, the prosecution must establish your relationship with the victim. Therefore, you will only be found guilty of the offense if the alleged victim is a domestic partner, an ex-spouse, a current spouse, or a person to whom you are related.
You Posted the Information without Consent
Consent is the agreement or authorization from someone to act in a way that affects them. You are guilty of posting harmful information if the alleged act victim did not permit you to display that information.
You Intended to Cause Fear or Harass the Victim
You are guilty of violating PC 653.2 if you posted the material intending to harass or hurt the alleged victim. Harassment is the willful conduct that another person considers annoying, terrorizing, or tormenting. On the other hand, inflicting fear means acting in a way that causes the victim to fear for their safety.
You Achieved the Intent to Cause Fear
The court needs the prosecution to establish this last element before obtaining a conviction for posting harmful information online. You must have achieved your intent to cause fear to the alleged victim. The prosecutor proves this element by obtaining the victim’s testimony. If the information you posted did not cause alarm, you could not be found guilty of the offense.
Relationship Between Domestic Violence and Penal Code 653.2
The law considers harassment on the internet as a form of domestic abuse. Most people who post harmful material on the internet do so to harm people close to them. A crime committed against a person listed under Family Code 6211 is considered domestic violence. If the victim of your actions falls under the following categories, you risk facing the disabilities of a domestic violence conviction:
- Former or current spouse
- Girlfriend or boyfriend
- The other parent of your child
- Siblings, parents, or relatives
Sentencing and Punishment for Posting Harmful Information on the Internet
Violation of California PC 653.2 is a misdemeanor. A conviction under this statute attracts a jail sentence of one year and a fine that does not exceed $1,000. If you are a first-time offender and you took the posts down, the court could sentence you to misdemeanor probation instead of spending time in jail. Informal probation entails doing community service for up to three years.
Although probation allows low-level criminals to avoid spending time behind bars, the court attaches conditions and requirements that the defendant must complete while on probation. Common probation conditions for domestic violence convictions include:
- Mandatory participation in group or individual therapy.
- Community service.
- Appear for all your court dates.
- Report your progress to the court.
- Restraining order mandating you to stay away from the alleged victim.
- Settle court fines.
Legal Defense Against Penal Code 653.2 Charges
PC 653.2 is a serious form of domestic violence. Therefore, you will require a strong legal team to help you build a strong defense when faced with these allegations. Common defense strategies you can use to fight charges under this statute include:
Lack of Intent
One of the key elements that the prosecutor must prove when establishing your guilt for cyber harassment is your intention to harm or annoy the alleged victim. If you can prove that you posted the information with no intent to incite a reaction or cause fear to the victim, you can escape a conviction and punishment for this offense. When you claim that you lacked the specific intent required for this crime, your lawyer can argue that the alleged victim misunderstood your actions.
Coercion to Display the Information
Coercion means that you are forced to engage in a particular act. In this case, you can argue that you posted the harmful material unwillingly because you feared the consequences of not obliging. However, the court may require that you provide evidence of coercion for reducing or dismissing your charges.
Before the prosecution obtains a conviction under PC 653.2, they must prove all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, all their evidence must be sufficient to convince the court that you posted the harmful information intended to cause fear or harm another person. If the prosecution presents a case against you without thorough investigation, you can create doubt in all their evidence.
False allegations are a common occurrence in domestic violence cases. Anger, hatred, jealousy, and a thirst for revenge can falsely compel a domestic partner to accuse you of a domestic violence crime falsely. Your attorney can further investigate the case to uncover the false accusation and to help you avoid a conviction.
You Pulled Down the Post
If you pulled down a post after realizing it was harmful to the alleged victim, you could use this fact to seek sympathy from the court. Although pulling down the post cannot cause dismissal of your case, you can be charged with a lesser offense.
Under California law, police officers are expected to uphold and respect your rights even when you are suspected of committing a crime. The law enforcement officers conducted themselves in a way that violates your constitutional rights, and the evidence they obtained against you is inadmissible in court. Some of the forms of police misconduct that could arise during your arrest for cyber harassment include:
- Illegal Search and Seizure. When investigating an internet crime, the police officer may need to go through your computer devices and take them to the station for further analysis. Failure to obtain a valid search warrant when performing these investigations is considered a violation of your rights.
- Forced Confessions. Sometimes, law enforcement officers can use threats against you or your family to force you into admitting guilt for a crime.
- Failure to read your Miranda Rights. During an arrest and interrogation, you have a right to be notified of your constitutional rights. Failure to read your Miranda rights will deny you the chance to act in your best interests.
With competent legal guidance, you can use the police misconduct defense to seek a dismissal of your charges.
The use of alcohol or drugs is not an excuse to engage in criminal activity or harm others. Therefore, intoxication is not a defense in your case. However, the court can consider your argument if the intoxication was unintended. For example, if you are drugged and persuaded to post harmful information about your ex-partner, the court may be lenient and offer you a reduced sentence for your crime.
Sealing a Penal Code 653.2 Arrest
In California, arrests and convictions are public records. Therefore, any person who performs a background check on you can find the record. Having an arrest record for posting harmful material is detrimental to your life. Fortunately, if you are acquitted of the offense, you can have it sealed and destroyed. Arrest records entail police reports, fingerprints, and booking photos. Sealing an arrest record means it will not appear on your background checks and cannot be used against you.
Before the enactment of Senate Bill 393, you could not seal your arrest record unless you proved to the court that you did not deserve the arrest. You can seal your PC 653.2 arrest record if you meet the following eligibility criteria:
- You faced an arrest, but the prosecutor did not file charges against you.
- The prosecution filed charges, but they later dismissed them, and the charges cannot be refiled.
- You were acquitted of your charges or found not guilty at the trial.
- You faced a conviction, but the conviction was vacated by the appeal court.
Even if you meet the eligibility criteria, the court could deny you the opportunity if you have exhibited a pattern of domestic violence. Since PC 653.2 is a domestic violence crime, having prior convictions for other forms of domestic violence like child abuse, elder abuse, and spousal battery means you cannot seal the record.
The process of sealing your arrest record follows the following steps:
- Filing the Petition. You must file a petition with the superior court and serve it to the prosecuting attorney and law enforcement agencies. When filing your petition, you must provide your personal information and other details identifying your arrest.
- Attend the Hearing. If the district attorney contests your petition, the court schedules a hearing. At this hearing, the judge examines your arrest record to determine whether sealing your record is in the interest of justice. A skilled attorney helps ensure that all your paperwork is filed correctly for your petition.
Unlike an expungement, sealing your arrest record means that employers and other people who do a background check on you will not access it. However, you must understand that this record does not cease to exist. Criminal justice agencies can use it in subsequent prosecutions.
Offenses Related to California PC 653.2
Some offenses are related to posting harmful content online and can be charged alongside or instead of PC 653.2, and they include:
California PC 647(j) (4) makes it an offense to disseminate or distribute another person’s sexual material without their consent. Even when a person allows you to record or take sexual images of them, you can face arrest and criminal charges for distributing that information.
When you post a sexual image or video to annoy or harass an intimate partner, you risk facing charges for revenge porn and posting harmful material on the internet. The elements of the crime of revenge porn include:
- You possessed an image or video of someone engaging in sexual activity
- You intentionally distributed the content
- The owner of the images or video did not consent to its distribution
- You knew that posting the material could cause emotional distress to the victim
- You achieved the intent to cause emotional suffering
Revenge porn is a misdemeanor. Facing a conviction for this offense puts you at risk of suffering the following legal consequences:
- A jail sentence of up to six months
- Fines that do not exceed $1,000
If the victim of your acts were a minor or you have a history of violating PC 647(j)(4), the court would increase your fine to $2,000.
Issuing threats of significant bodily injury to another person is a severe crime under PC 422 of California law. If you make threatening statements online, you can face charges for criminal threats alongside posting harmful information online. A prosecutor proves your guilt under PC 422 by establishing these elements in court:
- You threatened to injure or kill another person. You do not need to state the exact actions you will take against the victim. If the information you passed sounds like a threat of injury or death, you can face a conviction.
- You made the threat in writing, orally, or through electronic communication.
- You intended for the alleged victim to understand your statement as a threat.
- You have the present ability to carry out your threats against the victim. You cannot be guilty of making a threat impossible for you to carry out.
- The threats you made caused the victim to fear for their safety and their loved ones. The court can only find you guilty if the person for whom the threats were intended experienced reasonable fear.
The prosecution can file misdemeanor or felony charges against you for making criminal threats. Your criminal history and other case facts may affect the prosecutor’s decision. A felony conviction under PC 422 is punishable by a three-year prison sentence. On the other hand, a misdemeanor conviction attracts a year in county jail and a $1,000 fine.
Annoying Phone Calls, emails, and Texts
Penal Code 653(m) seeks to punish individuals who make repeated, obscene, and annoying electronic communication with another person. An act that could seem like a harmless phone prank could attract an arrest under this statute. You can be convicted of making annoying calls or sending obscene messages if the following elements apply to your case:
- You made, sent, or permitted an annoying call or other electronic communication.
- You acted with the intent to annoy or harass the recipient
- You used obscene, threatening, or annoying language.
If the court finds you guilty of violating PC 653(m), you will face misdemeanor penalties including:
- A maximum of six months in jail.
- Fines that do not exceed $1,000.
- Both jail terms and fines.
In some situations, the court will charge you with making annoying calls or emails and posting harmful information on the internet. A conviction under both statutes attracts severe legal penalties. Therefore, seeking legal guidance to fight your charges is critical.
Sending Harmful Material to a Child
California law is strict on defendants who commit crimes against children under eighteen. Sending absence material to a child intending to arouse them sexually is a crime addressed under PC 288.2. When proving your guilt under this statute, the prosecution must show your knowledge of the nature and effect of the material you sent. A material is considered harmful to a child if:
- The material describes offensive sexual conduct.
- The material is not of scientific value to the child.
- A reasonable adult would consider the material you sent shameful.
Sending harmful content to a juvenile can be a felony or a misdemeanor. The child's age and the type of material you sent significantly impact your charges. A felony PC 288.2 conviction attracts a three-year prison sentence, $10,000 in fines, and sex offender registration. Sending obscene material to a child as a misdemeanor will result in a year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000.
California PC 646.9 prohibits harassing or following a person until they feel worried for their safety. Cyberstalking involves the use of the internet or electronic media to harass someone. Prosecutors prove your guilt under PC 646.9 by outlining the following elements:
- You willfully and maliciously harassed another person.
- You sent threatening or harassing information through the internet space.
- The threats you made against the victim were credible.
Cyberstalking is a wobbler. With no aggravating circumstances, the prosecution will charge you with a misdemeanor. A guilty verdict on a misdemeanor charge will land you up to one year in county jail.
If you committed the crime in violation of a restraining order, you would face a felony conviction. The potential punishment for a felony conviction under PC 646.9 is a maximum of five years in state prison and a $1,000 fine.
Find a Reliable Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
Domestic violence is a severe offense under California law. Domestic violence takes many forms, including physical violence and harassment. If you post some information on the internet intending to harm or annoy an intimate partner, you could be arrested and charged under California PC 653.2. The legal punishment and consequences of a conviction under this statute are severe and life-changing.
Dealing with a criminal case can be challenging, especially when the stakes are high. Therefore, seeking the guidance of an experienced defense attorney will increase your chances of securing a favorable outcome in your case.
Your attorney will help you investigate the case and build a solid defense. If you are charged with posting harmful information on the internet in Los Angeles, CA, you will require expert legal guidance that we offer at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney. Contact us today at 424-333-0943 to discuss the details of your case.