In the last 20 years, the explosive growth of the internet caused an explosion of Internet Harassment. Whether it is internet harassment of a person or a business, the growth of cyber-bullying, revenge porn, or just plain false and defamatory information online has grown exponentially. Changes in evolving technology have been far ahead of the law and its protections for people. We wanted to explore the victim’s legal options through this blog and point out legal shortcomings.
This area of the law has seen such explosive growth that our blog entry will be broken into three sections:
- Potential criminal conduct (published last week)
- Peace Order/Protective Order conduct (this article)
- Civil remedies
Last week we tackled criminal conduct. You can review the article here.
ENLawyers legal disclaimer:
Of course, every situation is different and nothing in this article is meant to substitute for good legal counsel. The threshold question is this: Are you being physically threatened through telephone, text, email, or social media? If the answer is YES, you should immediately call the police. If the answer is NO, your situation needs to be examined more thoroughly.
Second, if you are having profane material being spread electronically without your consent, you should also immediately call the police. However, if the person is spreading lies, falsehoods, or other material about you in cyberspace you should contact an attorney (or after you call the police in the first two situations). In any instance, an attorney can help you through the process as there are several possible legal avenues to remedy your situation.
For purposes of these articles, I will characterize all things we’re discussing as “Internet Harassment” and use it encompassing its broadest sense. Understand that I am using that phrase to include every possible scenario, including revenge porn, defamation, abuse, harassment, and negative feedback. Anything that is posted online by one person about another (person or business) that is reasonably perceived as inappropriate.
Internet Harassment – Can you file for a Peace Order or a Protective Order?
Of course, like all things in the law, the answer is “maybe.” You will be required to prove, through demonstrative evidence that the person has committed certain underlying acts to obtain a Peace Order. If you are in the category of persons who are only eligible for a Protective Order, you must demonstrate some level of violence associated with the actions of the harasser. It is a major loophole in Maryland Law.
Difference between a Peace Order and a Protective Order
Peace orders and the law governing them are found in Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. Sec. 3-1501, et. seq. The specific underlying acts are as follows:
(a) Underlying acts. —
(1) A petitioner may seek relief under this subtitle by filing with the court, or with a commissioner under the circumstances specified in § 3-1503.1(a) of this subtitle, a petition that alleges the commission of any of the following acts against the petitioner by the respondent, if the act occurred within 30 days before the filing of the petition:
(i) An act that causes serious bodily harm;
(ii) An act that places the petitioner in fear of imminent serious bodily harm;
(iii) Assault in any degree;
(iv) Rape or a sexual offense under §§ 3-303 through 3-308 of the Criminal Law Article or attempted rape or sexual offense in any degree;
(v) False imprisonment;
(vi) Harassment under § 3-803 of the Criminal Law Article;
(vii) Stalking under § 3-802 of the Criminal Law Article;
(viii) Trespass under Title 6, Subtitle 4 of the Criminal Law Article;
(ix) Malicious destruction of property under § 6-301 of the Criminal Law Article;
(x) Misuse of telephone facilities and equipment under § 3-804 of the Criminal Law Article;
(xi) Misuse of electronic communication or interactive computer service under § 3-805 of the Criminal Law Article;
(xii) Revenge porn under § 3-809 of the Criminal Law Article; or
(xiii) Visual surveillance under § 3-901, § 3-902, or § 3-903 of the Criminal Law Article.
Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc 3-1503
Protective Orders are found Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc 3-1503 under Md. Fam. Law Code Sec. 4-501, et. seq. Peace orders are for neighbors, acquaintances, and persons who does not have an intimate relationship. Protective Orders are only for current or former spouses; cohabitants; persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption, parents children or stepchildren who have lived together for 90 days during the last 1 year; a vulnerable adult; a person with a child in common; or a person with a sexual relationship within the last 1 year. See. Md. Fam. Law Code Sec. 4-501(m). They may only be obtained if the Petitioner is the subject of abuse as defined by the Family law code. It is a fairly narrow definition compared to a peace order and consists of only the following behavior: any act that causes serious bodily harm; fear of imminent serious bodily harm; assault; rape or attempted rape or sexual offense; false imprisonment; or stalking. See Md. Fam. Law Code. Sec. 4-501(b). That narrow definition would exclude harassment and telephone/computer misuse unless there is some violent component to it. Persons who are eligible for a Protective order are not eligible for a peace order, per Md. Code Cts. and Jud. Proc. Sec. 3-1502.
You can find more information on the application process for a peace order and/or a protective order from our previous post here.
Conclusion Part 2 – Internet Harassment
Concluding our series, look for Part 3, Civil remedies in the age of the internet. If you feel that you are the victim of Internet harassment, document as much as possible. Contact the police immediately if you feel threatened or unsafe in any way. Remember, you can always contact your ENLawyers for help too!