Earlier this month, Tampa, Florida man pled guilty to cyberstalking and unauthorized access to a computer, according to an article in Tampa Bay Online. Joseph Campbell gained access to over 350-500 email accounts by sending out fake emails claiming that the recipients had received greeting cards. The emails would then instruct the recipients to type in their email addresses and passwords. After gaining access to the email accounts, Campbell took any nude or semi-nude photos found in a victim's email account and put it as their Facebook profile picture. Campbell also sent the photos as well as any lewd videos of the victims to different websites that he posted. Under the plea agreement, Campbell admitted that he posted the victims' photos and videos to harass and cause the victims to suffer emotional distress.
A person can be found guilty of cyberstalking under 18 U.S.C.A. § 2261A, which deals with interstate stalking in general. According to the statute, a person can be charged with stalking if they "travel interstate ... with the intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person," and doing so "places the person in reasonable fear of death of, serious bodily injury to, or causes substantial emotional distress to that person." Id. A person may also be found liable if reasonable fear of death, serious bodily injury, or emotional distress happens to a person's immediate family member, spouse, or intimate partner.
Being found guilty of interstate stalking or cyberstalking can have harsh results. With 18 U.S.C.A. § 2261 outlining the punishments for violating 18 U.S.C.A. § 2261A, if a person's death results, a defendant can be sentenced to life or any term of years. If there is a life-threatening bodily injury to the victim, then the sentence will be no more than 20 years. If the bodily injury is serious or a dangerous weapon is used in the offense, then the sentence will be 10 years. If emotional distress or any other result happens, then the sentence will be no more than 5 years.
To be found guilty under 18 U.S.C.A. § 2261A, actual "intent" needs to be proven. In U.S. v. Infante, No. 10-6144M, 2010 WL1268140, at *1 (D. Ariz. Mar. 30, 2010), the Federal District Court found that the defendant was not guilty since there was no proof that the defendant acted with a "specific purpose to cause an adverse emotional reaction to the victim." Id. at *5. While the defendant sent flowers, e-mails and even traveled from Arizona to New York unannounced after the victim informed the defendant that she never wanted to see him again, there was no evidence that the defendant intended to harass her. None of the e-mails sent had any threatening statements, and no threatening actions were ever taken towards the victim.
In U.S. v. Jordan, 591 F.Supp.2d 686 (S.D.N.Y. 2008), the Federal District Court came to a different conclusion. In this case, the defendant made false internet postings offering sex and housing using the victim's telephone number, as well as told the victim that he would "beat up her ex-boyfriend." Id. at 708. While the defendant claimed that his only motive was to get the victim to return to him, the court found that this was not a defense when he also intended to cause the victim to suffer substantial emotional distress or have a reasonable fear of bodily injury.