A Washington Lawyer’s Perspective on Prosecuting People of Internet Misconduct by Starting a Criminal Case or Suing Them in Civil Court
In Washington, when you are being harassed or abused by someone online, it is important to understand your different options from a civil and criminal lawyer’s prospective.
Unless it may put you in danger, the first good step is to tell the individual bothering you to stop contacting you in writing by either certified mail or by email and then CEASE communicating with them. The purpose of telling someone to stop in writing is if you do it verbally, the other party can deny it. The reason for doing this is it clearly puts the harassing individual on notice that their behavior is unwanted so, hopefully, they will stop when you tell them too and give them no other reason to continue. If you do this, you cannot continue to contact them as a court will see this as encouraging a reply or further communication. The abuser will now not be able to claim ignorance in a future case you may bring against him or her, nor will be be able to claim you somehow encouraged more communication. Doing this is essential. There are potentially two different types of cases besides civilly suing someone for damages (see our section on Suing Civilly for Defamation) which you may choose to initiate if the behavior does not stop – civil and criminal.
Criminal cases are initiated by you contacting the police. The police will then (hopefully) investigate the matter. Depending on the amount of evidence, the level of abuse or danger involved, the police may be very proactive in investigating the matter and criminal charges could be filed quickly. Once the individual is charged, the court will put criminal no-contact orders in place to prevent the abuser from harassing you further while the case is pending. If the individual is convicted, the no-contact order will almost always remain in place for an increased period of time.
However, the reality is even if there is criminal conduct, it may take well over a month or two for a criminal accusation to be investigated, sent to the prosecutor to be reviewed, and then filed and that is only if the prosecutor thinks the conduct rises to the level of criminal prosecution. Even after the police investigate the matter, the police or prosecutor may decide there is insufficient evidence for a criminal charge. During the time when the police are investigating, there remains no court order in place telling the abuser to stop. One would hope the individual would stop on their own once they realize the police are investigating his or her conduct but that certainly is no guarantee. If no criminal charges are filed, the abuser may even think their behavior is legal (a lack of proof does not mean the conduct is legal) and will continue or restart the abuse. Even if the criminal case is still being investigated or the government choses not to file criminal charges, you can still choose to be proactive and file your own civil protection order. Even if you do not win a civil protection order, the abuser is put on clear notice to stop and if further misconduct follows, police are more likely to take it seriously.
If you choose to file a civil protection order, hiring an experienced firm like Rhodes Legal Group helps you get it done properly and in our opinion, increases your probability of victory. Coming out strong is very important when filing a protection order. We have been involved in too many cases trying to clean up poorly done filings after the fact. That is never a position of strength. Having it done properly from the beginning will increase the likelihood that you will be victorious and you will obtain the protection you need.
Things get a little trickier when you do not know who is writing the harassing things about you online. Again, an experienced attorney may help you track down who the individual is through a variety of different methods, including working with the police.
It is understandable for some people to think the abuser will lose interest at some point and go away on their own. Unfortunately, many bullies and abusers are not wired that way and will remain infatuated with their target. In instances like this, it is important to protect yourself using the law. Do not allow someone to take away your ability to relax and live in peace. The police can help you in many instances but in situations where the police are not the complete answer, civil lawyers can fight to get your life back. Email or call us at 206-708-7852 to set an appointment.