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Defending Federal Cyberstalking and Harassment Charges in New York

Defending Federal Cyberstalking and Harassment Charges in New York

Being charged with cyberstalking or online harassment can be scary. These federal crimes carry serious penalties, including years in prison. But with an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side, you may be able to get the charges reduced or even dismissed. Here’s an overview of federal cyberstalking and harassment laws, potential defenses, and what to expect if you’re facing charges in New York.

Federal Cyberstalking and Harassment Laws

There are two main federal laws that prohibit cyberstalking and harassment:

  • Interstate stalking/harassment – This law makes it a crime to use any “interactive computer service” to stalk or harass another person across state lines. Convictions can lead to 5 years in prison.
  • Interstate communications – This broader law criminalizes using telephones, email, or “any other facility of interstate or foreign commerce” to threaten, abuse, harass, etc. another person. Penalties can include 2 years imprisonment.

Prosecutors often bring cyberstalking charges using these laws when online threats or harassment crosses state lines. For example, if someone in New York uses Facebook to repeatedly harass someone in New Jersey, federal charges could apply.
The laws are broad, and “harassment” doesn’t have a single clear definition. But some common cyberstalking behaviors that could lead to charges include:

  • Repeatedly sending unwanted, threatening messages
  • Posting embarrassing photos without consent
  • Monitoring someone’s online activity without permission
  • Sending viruses or hacking attempts
  • Creating fake social media accounts pretending to be the victim

Defenses Against Federal Cyberstalking Charges

Fighting federal cyberstalking charges starts with understanding potential defenses that apply to your specific case. Here are some common defenses lawyers use:

You didn’t send the messages

If someone else sent threatening messages using your IP address or device without your knowledge, you may be able to avoid responsibility. Your lawyer can request records to show the messages came from a different location than you were.

The communication was misinterpreted

Sometimes messages that seemed threatening were just meant jokingly. Your lawyer can provide context to show the communication wasn’t meant to harass the recipient when properly understood.

It doesn’t meet the legal definition of cyberstalking

If the communication doesn’t rise to the level of harassment or stalking under the law, you may be able to get the charges dismissed. For example, a single angry message without threats may not qualify as cyberstalking.

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Free speech protections apply

The First Amendment protects free speech, even unpopular or offensive speech. Your lawyer can argue the communication is protected speech rather than true harassment or threats.

You were unlawfully targeted

If police improperly targeted you for your race, religion, or other discriminatory reasons, your lawyer can seek to suppress the evidence and get charges dismissed.

The Criminal Process in New York

Here’s an overview of what you can expect if facing federal cyberstalking or harassment charges in New York:

Arrest and charges

Cyberstalking arrests usually involve local police or FBI agents if it’s an interstate crime. Prosecutors will then decide what federal charges to bring based on the evidence.

Release or bail

After arrest, a judge decides whether to release you or require bail money while your case proceeds. With non-violent cybercrime charges, there’s a good chance of being released on your own recognizance. But bail is possible.

Plea negotiations

Many cyberstalking cases end in a plea bargain rather than trial. An experienced lawyer can negotiate with prosecutors to get charges reduced or dismissed in exchange for a guilty plea on a lesser charge.

Motions to dismiss

Before trial, your lawyer may file motions arguing there’s insufficient evidence or the law is unconstitutional. If successful, these motions can get charges thrown out pre-trial.


If no plea deal is reached, your case will go to trial before a judge or jury. The prosecution has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Your lawyer will vigorously defend you and hold them to meeting this high standard.


If found guilty, the judge will impose a sentence based on federal guidelines and the case specifics. With no prior record, sentences are often on the lower end. Your lawyer will advocate for the minimum.

Finding the Right Lawyer

The lawyer you choose can make all the difference in how cyberstalking charges play out. Look for an experienced federal criminal defense attorney when facing charges like these. Key credentials to consider include:

  • Strong record defending cybercrime cases
  • Familiarity with federal courts and laws
  • Resources to conduct in-depth investigations
  • Negotiation skills to secure plea bargains
  • Trial experience taking complex cases to verdict

Don’t take chances with public defenders or lawyers with little federal cybercrime experience. The right lawyer can carefully examine the evidence, identify defenses, and protect your rights through every stage.

Take Cyberstalking Charges Seriously

Being accused of cyberstalking or harassment should never be taken lightly. These charges can end careers, ruin reputations, and lead to long prison sentences in some cases. If questioned by police or charged federally, politely decline to answer questions and immediately contact a qualified lawyer. A skilled attorney can often get charges reduced or dismissed before the case goes too far. But acting quickly is essential.

You Have Rights – Use Them

The Constitution provides important rights when facing criminal prosecution, including the rights to an attorney and to remain silent. Never speak about your case with anyone except your lawyer. Anything you say to investigators can be used against you. Politely insist on having counsel present for any questioning.
Fighting federal charges is daunting, but an experienced attorney levels the playing field. Don’t lose hope. With the right legal strategy and aggressive defense, many positive outcomes are possible. The lawyer you choose will make all the difference.


18 U.S. Code § 2261A – Stalking
47 U.S. Code § 223 – Obscene or harassing telephone calls in the District of Columbia or in interstate or foreign communications

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