Young boy on his phone being cyberbullied
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By Michael Arbeit
Founding Attorney

Aggravated harassment over the internet, commonly known as cyberbullying, refers to the use of digital technologies, like social media, emails, and messaging platforms, to deliberately and repeatedly harass, threaten, or intimidate individuals. This form of harassment transcends traditional physical boundaries, allowing perpetrators to target victims at any time and place. Cyberbullying can manifest in various forms, including spreading rumors online, sending abusive messages, or sharing someone’s personal information without consent. As the internet becomes increasingly integral to our daily lives, understanding and addressing the issue of cyberbullying is essential for promoting a safe and respectful online environment.

What Is Aggravated Harassment In General?

Aggravated harassment in New York is a serious criminal offense that involves intentionally causing alarm or distress to another person through specific actions. This crime is typically charged when the behavior goes beyond simple annoyance or insult. The laws around aggravated harassment are designed to protect individuals from targeted and harmful behavior that can impact their safety and well-being. In New York, aggravated harassment is taken seriously by law enforcement and the courts, and those found guilty can face significant legal consequences. In today’s digital age, aggravated harassment can be accomplished through electronic means, especially in the form of cyberbullying.

New York Penal Law Section 240.30 governs what constitutes aggravated harassment, including cyber harassment.  A person is guilty of aggravated harassment in the second degree when they engage in specific actions with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, or alarm another person.

Actions That Could Constitute Aggravated Harassment

  • Communicating Threats: This involves communicating (anonymously or otherwise) by telephone, computer, mail, or any other electronic or non-electronic methods a threat to cause physical harm or unlawful harm to the property of the person or a member of their family or household. The key aspect here is that the communication should cause the person to reasonably fear for their safety or property.
  • Telephone Calls With No Legitimate Purpose: Making a telephone call with the intent to harass or threaten another person without any legitimate communication purpose.
  • Physical Contact or Threats Based on Discrimination: This includes striking, shoving, kicking, or otherwise subjecting another person to physical contact or threatening to do so, motivated by discrimination based on race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, gender identity or expression, religion, religious practice, age, disability, or sexual orientation.
  • Physical Contact Causing Injury: Striking, shoving, kicking, or otherwise subjecting another person to physical contact, thereby causing physical injury.
  • Repeated Harassment Offenses: Committing the crime of harassment in the first degree, with a prior conviction of the same offense within the preceding ten years​​.

The most common type of harassment used to prosecute cyber harassment in New York is aggravated harassment in the second degree. Countless types of behaviors and conduct can amount to aggravated harassment in the second degree.

Aggravated harassment in the second degree will take the form of cyber harassment if, with the intent to harass another person, the offender communicates a threat electronically or by mail. The threat must be one of physical harm or harm to the property of the victim or their family and may be made directly or through another person. In New York, aggravated harassment in the second degree is a Class A misdemeanor.

Actions conducted via the Internet or electronic communications could come under the heading of aggravated harassment as well.  For example, cyberbullying often falls under these laws, especially when the behavior involves repeated, unwanted, and threatening communications.

Characteristics of Aggravated Harassment

  • Electronic Communication: Emails, text messages, social media posts, and other digital communication forms can be mediums for aggravated harassment.
  • Intent: A key element is the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, or alarm the victim.
  • Harmful Content: Messages or posts that are threatening, lewd, or cause reasonable fear in the victim can be considered aggravated harassment.

Legal Consequences

The penalties for aggravated harassment in New York include criminal and monetary consequences. Criminally, a person convicted of aggravated harassment in the second degree can face up to one year in jail, three-year probation, and a fine of up to $1,000​​. Additionally, the monetary penalties for aggravated harassment have been increased, with the fine being not less than $500 and not more than $2,500 for the first violation and not less than $2,500 nor more than $12,500 for each subsequent violation​​. In many cases, this offense is part of a larger domestic situation, where the accused may face more severe consequences if the harassment is directed at a family member or intimate partner, leading to mandatory arrest and processing.  Keep in mind that victims can also seek restraining orders to prevent further harassment.

Challenges in Enforcement

  • Anonymity: Those individuals engaging in aggravated harassment might use anonymous accounts or technology to mask their identity, complicating law enforcement efforts.
  • Jurisdictional Issues: The internet’s global nature can create jurisdictional challenges in prosecuting cases of cyberbullying or online harassment.

Evolving Nature of Aggravated Harassment Charges

With evolving digital communication platforms, the legal system continuously adapts to address new forms of online harassment. Legislators periodically review and amend laws to better protect individuals against cyberbullying and online harassment.

Contact Our Aggravated Harassment Attorney in New York

If you find yourself being charged with aggravated harassment and feel that you have been unjustly accused, it is crucial to retain the services of an experienced criminal law attorney who can help you navigate the legal system in New York. Michael A. Arbeit, PC has skilled attorneys who will powerfully advocate for your rights. Contact us for an initial consultation if you find yourself needing assistance to defend aggravated harassment claims made against you in New York.

About the Author
Michael A. Arbeit, P.C. is devoted to all Criminal Defense and  Traffic related matters.  Michael practices primarily in the Criminal and County (Supreme) Courts in Nassau County, Suffolk County, Queens County, Kings County, New York County and the Bronx County.  Michael is also licensed to practice law in the Federal Courts of the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) and the Southern District of New York (SDNY).