Indirect Electronic Harassment

California's indirect electronic harassment law, 653.2 PC prohibits the posting of potentially harmful information which could lead to harassment by others.

indirect electronic harassment 653.2 pc - torrance criminal defense attorney
indirect electronic harassment 653.2 pc - torrance criminal defense attorney

A common scenario which can violate 653.2 PC is a scorned ex-lover posting online their former partner’s name, photo, contact info and home address or locations they frequent, with a message encouraging others to help them get revenge on their ex.

653.2 PC differs from 646.9 PC, California’s cyberstalking (or direct electronic harassment) law.

California Penal Code 653.2 was passed in response to the rising incidence of computer-related crime. This statute makes it unlawful to post or distribute potentially harmful information about another person which may provoke or motivate a third party to harass and/or injure that person. This offense is sometimes called indirect electronic harassment or indirect cyber-harassment.

A common scenario which can violate 653.2 PC is a scorned ex-lover posting online their former partner’s name, photo, contact info and home address or locations they frequent, with a message encouraging others to help them get revenge on their ex.

653.2 PC differs from 646.9 PC, California’s cyberstalking (or direct electronic harassment) law. Under 646.9 PC, the offender is the person who stalked or harassed the victim.

Elements of the crime

To obtain a successful conviction for indirect electronic harassment under 653.2 PC, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant used an electronic communication device to commit the following acts:

  1. Electronically published, emailed, distributed, hyperlinked, or otherwise made available personal information or a message of a harassing nature about someone else.
  2. The defendant did so without the alleged victim’s consent.
  3. The defendant’s intent was to make the alleged victim reasonably fear for their safety, or that of their immediate family.
  4. The defendant did so with the purpose of causing the alleged victim imminent and unwanted physical injury, contact, or harassment.
  5. The defendant shared personal information which was likely to incite, provoke, or produce unwanted physical injury, contact, or harassment to the alleged victim.

Under this statute, an electronic communication device includes:

  • Mobile telephones
  • Landline telephones
  • Computers and tablets
  • Web pages/web sites, including social media platforms
  • Video cameras
  • Fax machines

Under the law, harassment involves any willful conduct and/or behavior which serves no legitimate purpose. The test is that a reasonable person would feel seriously annoyed, alarmed, tormented, and/or terrorized in the same situation.

Of particular importance is that an individual can be found guilty of violating 653.2 PC even if no one actually harasses or harms the targeted victim. In fact, the target need not even be aware of the distributed information. As long as the electronically distributed information was likely to induce someone to harm, harass, or annoy the target, then the person distributing that information could be charged with a violation of 653.2 PC.

Criminal penalties for indirect electronic harassment

Violation of 653.2 PC is a misdemeanor which is punishable by any or all of:

  • Up to one year in county jail.
  • A fine not to exceed $1,000.
  • Summary probation.

Legal defenses to indirect electronic harassment

The most common legal defense against a charge of indirect electronic harassment centers on the required element of intent. A conviction under 653.2 PC requires that the perpetrator intended to place the victim in fear, and to cause another person to harass, injure, or physically contact the victim. As such, the prosecution must prove specific intent to obtain a conviction. Even if the defendant posted something online that prompted another person to harass the alleged victim, if the defendant did not intend the harassment to happen, a violation of 653.2 PC did not occur.