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Cyber Stalking and Phone Harassment

Today's world necessitates the spread of information through electronic means; however, this also means that in the modern age, the possibility getting charged with, or convicted of a crime without you being anywhere near the alleged victim has drastically increased. Communication is often done with two parties in separate areas, so a lot can be lost without physical presence. Because of this, people naturally draw certain conclusions based on things like tone of voice, what words are used, and even how the conversation ends (i.e. being hung up on or ignored). You can sound threatening and aggravated over the phone to someone simply with a bit of edge on the tone of your voice. With digital communication at an all time high, often times arguments are started or exacerbated over text message or online chat. Due to the nature of simply reading words on a screen without vocal tone or body language, things can get lost in translation. Expressions of frustration or disappointment can be read as violent, rage-induced outbursts; figures of speech can be misconstrued as threats or personal attacks. Believe it or not, you can be charged with a crime if something said over the phone or through text is heard or read this way.

Phone Harassment

The official name for this crime is Telephone Harassment and it is defined in RCW 9.61.230. There are several factors that will result in a guilty conviction for this crime. If charged, the court must prove that you made a telephone call with the intent to harass, intimidate, torment or embarrass another person, combined with any one or more of the following factors:

  • using lewd, lascivious, profane, indecent, or obscene words or langauge; or alluding to commiting a lewd act  
  • anonymously or repeatedly or at extremely inconvenient times, regardless of whether or not there is any conversation
  • threatening to inflict injury on the person or property contacted, or their family or home (this results in a gross misdemeanor)

This crime becomes a class C felony when:

  • you have previously been convicted of harassment towards the person called, person's family, or anyone named in a prior no-contact or no-harassment order
  • you threaten to kill anyone

You can be guilty of this as well under RCW 9.61.240 if you knowingly permit a telephone under your control to be used for phone harassment.

Punishment for Telephone Harassment:

  • As a gross misdemeanor: 364 days in county jail, or a fine up to $5000, or both
  • As a class C felony: a guilty conviction carries up to five years in state prison, or a fine up to $10,000 or both

Common examples of this crime:

  • An angry boyfriend calls his girlfriend several times at 2:00 am to settle a fight from earlier, he tries to scare her into believing he will vandalize her car if she doesn't pick up, though he has no real desire to do so. He does not reach her, but she wakes up to several missed calls and an angry voicemail with vulgar language. He could be found guilty in this case because his intent with phone call was to cause intimidation or threat.
  • An uncle's nephews are over at his house, and he permits them to make several annoying pranks calls to their teacher while blocking the number, thinking it is all in good fun. He could be found guilty on the grounds that he knowingly allowed the activity to take place on his phone.


Cyberstalking, although very similar to phone harassment, is a separate crime and is specific to any electronic communications that do not involve speaking over the phone. Cyberstalking is defined in RCW 9.61.260, and is always a gross misdemeanor. Electronic communication includes but is not limited to email, internet chat/communications, pager service, and electronic text messaging. In order to be found guilty, that court must prove that you made an electronic communication, without constituting telephone harassment, with intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass another person with one of the following factors:

  • using lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, image, or language; or making suggestion of committing a lewd or lascivious act
  • anonymously or repeatedly, regardless of whether or not a conversation happens
  • threatening to inflict injury on the person or property contacted, or any member of that person's family or household

Similar to phone harassment, cyberstalking can become a class C felony as well under these circumstances:

  • if you have a prior conviction of harassment with the same person or someone form their family/household, or a person specifically named in a no-contact or no-harassment order
  • you threaten to kill anyone

Punishment for Cyberstalking:

  • As a gross misdemeanor: 364 days in county jail, or a fine up to $5000, or both
  • As a class C felony: a guilty conviction carries up to five years in state prison, or a fine up to $10,000 or both

Common examples of this crime:

  • Using anonymous names on an online messenger, two former classmates contact an old middle school bully and threaten to beat him up and take his lunch money to make him feel like they did when they were younger. These two could be found guilty because their intent was to intimidate and torment.
  • An ex-boyfriend repeatedly sends text messages and online messages to his ex-girlfriend in an effort to obtain some things back from her apartment. Frustrated with her lack of responses he begins sending pictures of himself outside of her apartment at several hours of the day accompanied with messages saying he will forcibly enter if she doesn't answer or give his things back. He can be found guilty because he is threatening to harm her property by forced entry.

These are serious charges that can stem from unfortunate misunderstandings. Intent can be difficult to prove in these events because what is read and what is intended are not always the same. Unfortunately, in these cases a simple misunderstanding can lead to felony charges. On top of this, these crimes can often be paired with other related criminal charges, such as stalking or no-contact order violations. If you are facing charges of cyberstalking, telephone harassment, or domestic violence contact Steve Karimi today.

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