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What You Need to Know About “Cyberstalking” Laws in Maryland

The Internet, and social media in particular, makes it easy to reach out and communicate with other people throughout the world. Unfortunately, this also makes it easier to engage in abusive or threatening conduct towards other people. And in some cases, that conduct can lead to serious criminal charges.

Maryland Judge Sentences Man to 18 Months in Federal Prison for Harassing “Love Interest”

Take this recent federal criminal case from here in Maryland. Recently, the United States Attorney’s Office for Maryland announced that a Texas man had agreed to plead guilty and serve an 18-month prison sentence for cyberstalking. According to the government, between April and November 2020 the defendant “used more than 100 different social media accounts, phone accounts, and various electronic communication tools to send harassing messages to” his victim.

The defendant claimed to be in love with the victim. Despite this, prosecutors said, many of his messages “included threats of death, bodily injury, sexualized violence, and racial slurs.” The defendant also posted pictures of the victim’s home online and made a false report to the police that there was a “possible bomb” on the property.

Following his arrest on federal charges, the defendant agreed to plead guilty to two counts of violating 18 U.S.C. § 2261A, the federal anti-stalking statute. This statute makes it illegal to travel in interstate commerce–e.g., use the Internet–to engage in a course of conduct designed to “kill, injure, harass, intimidate,” or engage in surveillance for those purposes to the point where it places a person “in reasonable fear” of death or serious bodily injury to themselves or their family.

The maximum penalty for violating § 2261A is five years in federal prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of $250,000, or any combination of the three. There is no mandatory minimum prison term. In this case, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett decided to impose a sentence of 18 months in federal prison followed by an additional year of home detention. The home detention will be served as part of the maximum three years of supervised release.

It should be noted that federal cyberstalking penalties increase significantly if the defendant harms their victim physically. When cyberstalking leads to bodily injury against a victim, the maximum prison term doubles from five to 10 years. If the defendant causes a permanent disability or disfigurement, the maximum penalty jumps to 20 years. And if the defendant kills their victim, federal law provides for a sentence up to and including life in prison.

And once again, since most cyberstalking involves sending messages across the state lines via the Internet, a defendant is likely to face federal criminal charges. That said, Maryland also has its own cyberstalking and cyberbullying laws. Under these laws, a person could face misdemeanor charges for simply sending text messages that are considered “bullying.”

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This article has been provided by the Law Office of Robert Castro. For more information or questions contact our office to speak to an experienced lawyer at (301) 705-5137.