A Washington lawyer’s perspective on the stalking, civil harassment, the internet and issues surrounding these kind of allegations based on experience.
Harassment and stalking are not recently developed types of behavior. These two behaviors have occurred in some form or another throughout history. However, with the new Internet age (making it easier to impulsively watch or look at others as well as quickly and impulsively send emails, texts, and videos), harassment and stalking have become a more documentable behavior, and therefore easier to accuse and prosecute. Our lawyers are familiar with both points of view: we have civilly prosecuted those who engage in this behavior as well as defended those who are civilly or criminally charged with it. From either point of view, the situation is always difficult and needs staunch representation. Emotions run high in these kinds of cases, language and statements can get taken out of context and things can quickly get out of control. Our experience representing a large number of defendants, victims, petitioners and respondents in these kinds of cases has given us an unusual level of understanding of what needs to be done in these kinds of cases. If you think there is a problem, stop trying to fix it yourself and call this office.
Many people while sitting behind a keyboard write things which they would never dream of actually saying to a person’s face, or let alone think will be read in front of a courtroom with lawyers, judges and the public present. People feel a sense of security in that they believe there are no repercussions for their written words however, the world of tracking emails has changed and victims of online or internet harassment or stalking have tools at their disposal for protection not commonly available a decade ago: nowadays, the police and prosecuting attorneys do get involved in prosecuting these kinds of cases as it has become very easy to locate where an email came from if the sender was not careful. If you are concerned enough to consider hiring a lawyer, whether it be because you feel you are being civilly harassed or you are concerned you might be investigated for a crime, a consultation with this office is a wise first step. These kinds of cases are highly emotional, easily mishandled and independent counsel helps tremendously.
With the expansive use of social media, online internet harassment has taken on forms not originally contemplated by the Washington legislature years ago but the laws have been updated to provide protection for any form of “electronic” harassment, whether it be text messages, twitter, facebook, Instagram, snapchat, or some other form of social media which has not even been created yet. From a criminal defense attorney’s prospective, this is a wide net.
Harassment and stalking can take on many shapes and forms. Not all harassment and stalking arises to criminal conduct. Should it not reach that level, an anti-harassment/stalking civil protection order will typically be the legal remedy sought by most civil lawyers or pro se litigants.
Washington’s Legal Definition of Harassment
In Washington, “Unlawful harassment” is a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person which seriously alarms, annoys, harasses, or is detrimental to such person, and which serves no legitimate or lawful purpose. A “course of conduct” is a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time. Whether you are prosecuting or defending a case, it is important to understand a pattern cannot be created with one incident. If you received one harassing email, twitter message, facebook post, etc., that is not a course of conduct. Instead, multiple harassing messages, even within a very short period of time, can create a pattern. However, depending on what is said, one harassing email may rise to the level of criminal conduct. See our sections on Criminal Harassment and Cyberstalking.
These multiple messages (course of conduct) must reach a level where a reasonable person would suffer substantial emotional distress and does actually cause the substantial emotional distress. For parents concerned about their child being cyberbullied, the court will look to see whether the pattern reaches a level where a reasonable parent would fear for the well-being of their child. There are civil remedies for this behavior but the bar is high and you should read the above page on cyberbullying.
In some situations, the harassing party and the victim may live in two different states. The Washington legislature and courts understand state borders are not a barrier for electronic harassment. If the victim lives in Washington, that individual may file for a protection order in their local jurisdiction, even if the harassing party lives in another state.
In some instances, the harassment may also reach the level where the abuser could actually be sued. For example, harassing messages made to third parties about you may rise to the level of defamation | libel and you may wish to hire a Washington civil lawyer to do something about it. We have prosecuted and defended these kind of cases. That said, it is also important to remember there must be sufficient damages to warrant filing a civil suit. It makes no sense to file a suit that will cost more in attorney fees than the actual amount of damages. Similarly, it would be an extremely poor decision to go through the trouble and cost of a suit against someone who has no money to pay the judgment. Winning a $50,000 judgment against someone who only has $5,000 to their name is a waste of time and money – considering the plaintiff probably also spent more than $10,000 on attorney fees.
If you are the victim of electronic harassment and want the help of a lawyer or you are being accused of electronic harassment and need a lawyer, it is important to consult with an experienced firm who can help you navigate these difficult waters. Our experience representing defendants, victims, petitioners and respondents in these kinds of cases has given us an unusual level of understanding of what needs to be done in these kinds of cases. The Rhodes Legal Group has collectively decades of experience representing the accused and victims in criminal and civil harassment cases. Email or call 206-708-7852 to set an appointment.