In April, the Ohio Legislature passed a bill that will expand Ohio’s laws on stalking and telecommunications harassment in order to give Ohioans additional protection from cyberstalking. The bill, Ohio House Bill 151, took over a year to wind its way through the Ohio legislature but now needs only the Governor John Kasich’s signature to become law and that signature is expected to come soon.
The purpose of House Bill 151 is to expand the existing laws used to punish cyberstalking in order to fill gaps created due to the continued growth and usage of electronic communications. The revised laws have to do with the crimes of menacing by stalking (O.R.C. 2903.211) and telecommunications harassment (O.R.C. 2917.21).
House Bill 151 expands the menacing by stalking law to include threats made against family and household members instead of threats made solely against the victim. The change means that a person is prohibited from engaging in a pattern of conduct that would knowingly cause another person to believe that the offender will cause physical harm or mental distress to the other person or to a family or household member of the other person. In addition, House Bill 151 changes the law to prohibit using any form of written communication for the posting of a message or using “any intentionally written graphic gesture” to threaten or urge others to threaten the victim or members of the victim’s family.
The law for telecommunications harassment is expanded in House Bill 151 to include communications made for the purpose of intimidation to go along with those made for the purpose of harassment or abuse. The new law also adds a number of actions that would be considered telecommunications harassment, including:
- Knowingly making any comment, request, suggestion, or proposal to the recipient of the telecommunication that is threatening, intimidating, menacing, coercive, or obscene with the intent to abuse, threaten, or harass the recipient.
- Knowingly making a false statement concerning the death, injury, illness, disfigurement, reputation, indecent conduct or criminal conduct of the recipient of the telecommunication or a family member with the purpose to threaten, intimidate, or harass.
- Knowingly inciting another person through a telecommunication to harass or participate in the harassment of a person.
- Knowingly alarming the recipient by making a telecommunication at an hour known to be inconvenient to the recipient and in an offensively or repetitive manner.
House Bill 151 additionally makes it telecommunications harassment to knowingly post a text or audio statement or an image on an internet web site for the purpose of abusing, threatening, or harassing another person.
There are many benefits to changing the laws used to prosecute cyberstalking to better protect victims, and it is easy to see why House Bill 151 passed both houses of the Ohio Legislature with no dissenting votes. However, the broad definitions could make people more reluctant to speak or express their opinions for fear of facing prosecution under the new cyberstalking laws. The American Civil Liberties Union in Ohio did not take a formal position on House Bill 151 and expressed concern that some of the new statutory language could be subjective in many instances.
How Ohio Criminal Defense Lawyers Can Help
If House Bill 151 is signed by the Governor there is a chance you may wind up facing cyberstalking charges for expressing your thoughts with no intent to harass anyone. In that situation, you are going to want an experienced attorney to help defend you in the kind of case where one small detail could make all the difference.
Luftman, Heck & Associates explore every possible defense for our clients and strive to obtain the very best outcomes in their cases through creative and aggressive advocacy. We represent our clients on a wide variety of criminal charges so even if the charges you are facing have nothing to do with cyberstalking we can put our experience to work for you. Call the Ohio criminal defense lawyers with LHA today at (614) 500-3836 for a free and confidential consultation.