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In a recent survey, 28% of Americans admitted they had directed malicious online activity at someone they didn’t know. In many cases, such activity is protected by the First Amendment. But in other cases, such activity can subject you to a lawsuit or a criminal prosecution.
Malicious online activity can take various forms in Nevada, including:
Making terrorist threats.
The good news is that before you can be subjected to criminal penalties for electronic communications or internet comments, there must be evidence that you intended to cause harm to your alleged victim.
Internet “trolling” in Nevada
You “troll” when you post inflammatory or inappropriate messages or comments online for the purpose of upsetting other users and provoking a response.
And when trolling crosses the line into cyberbullying or cyberstalking – that is, when the comments or communications contain personal information or threats, or are obscene or harassing — there are several Nevada criminal laws they might violate.
Nevada law also protects public school students from online, text and email harassment and cyberbullying. In addition to any applicable civil or criminal consequences, students who engage in such behavior can be disciplined by school authorities.
Engages in stalking by means of an Internet or network site, electronic mail, text messaging or any other similar means of communication, and
Such behavior is for the purpose of publishing, displaying or distributing information in a manner that substantially increases the risk of harm or violence to the victim.
“Stalking” occurs when, without lawful authority, someone willfully or maliciously engages in a course of conduct that:
Would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, harassed or fearful for the immediate safety of a family or household member, and
Actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, harassed or fearful for the immediate safety of a family or household member.
Cyberstalking is a Nevada Category C felony. Penalties can include up to 5 years in Nevada State Prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. In addition, people who reasonably believe they are being cyberstalked can petition a court for a Nevada restraining order. If granted, the restraining order will prohibit the alleged cyberstalker from having any contact or communication with the alleged victim.
Nevada’s Cyber Harassment Law – NRS 200.571
The Nevada crime of harassment, NRS 200.571, is similar to the crime of stalking. Both consist of behavior that causes another person to reasonably fear harm to him- or herself or his or her family.
However, whereas cyberstalking usually involves trying to force contact with a victim, cyber harassment involves a direct threat of harm such as:
Physical restraint or confinement,
Sexual assault, or
Anything else intended to substantially harm another person’s physical or mental safety.
Like the crime of cyberstalking, harassment via electronic media is a Nevada Category C Felony. It can be punished in the same way as cyberstalking, with penalties that can include up to 5 years in Nevada state prison and/or as much as a $10,000 fine.
Terrorist Threats Via Texting, Emails or the Internet – NRS 202.448
A cyber terrorist threat occurs when someone uses an internet post or an email or text message to threaten substantial injury or destruction to the general population by means of sabotage or violence.
Making a terrorist threat in Nevada is a serious felony. Punishment can include as much as 2 – 20 years in Nevada State Prison and up to a $5,000 fine.
Cyber Bullying in Nevada Public Schools
NRS 388.121 and subsequent sections set forth procedures under which Nevada public schools are to provide a safe and respectful learning environment free of bullying and cyber-bullying.
“Cyber-bullying” is defined as bullying through the use of electronic communication. The term includes the use of electronic communication to transmit or distribute a sexual image of a minor.
“Bullying” includes communications that place a person in reasonable fear of physical harm or property damage and create an intimidating or hostile educational environment and are based upon actual or perceived characteristics such as race, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation or disabilities or associations with people with such actual or perceived characteristics
Acts that constitute cyberbullying range from name-calling to spreading false rumors to cyberstalking.
Nevada law has strict mandatory reporting requirements for teachers and other staff members who witness or are informed of cyberbullying. If these requirements are not complied with, a parent or guardian of a pupil may petition a court of competent jurisdiction for a writ of mandamus to compel the performance of any duty imposed on schools by Nevada’s anti-cyberbullying laws.
What About My Constitutional Right of Free Speech?
But this right is not absolute. The Supreme Court of the United States has carved out exceptions based on false statements, obscenity, child pornography and incitements to violence. Prohibitions on cyberbullying are seen by proponents as an extension of these rights. Opponents see them as an unreasonable prohibition of protected speech.
It can be a challenge for legislatures and courts has been to balance the desire to protect victims of cyberbullying with legitimate free speech concerns. It is particularly difficult since courts are not always in agreement about what is constitutionally permitted.
Laws similar to Nevada’s cyberbullying laws have been struck down as overly broad and constitutionally vague in New York and North Carolina.
The United States Court has not yet weighed in on the issue, though it certainly seems possible in the future. In the meantime, if you or someone you know has been charged with a criminal violation of Nevada’s cyber harassment, bullying or stalking laws, we welcome the opportunity to help. To schedule a free consultation with one of our caring Nevada criminal defense, personal injury, immigration, and family law attorneys, simply contact us via the form on this page. Or call us to speak with a lawyer in the nearest office.
About the Author
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.