According to new legislation passed by the North Carolina House of Representatives, using a GPS device to track others against their will may soon constitute a crime.
The chamber voted Wednesday, September 2, adding GPS tracking to a list of crimes under the title of “cyberstalking.” The bill was originally approved by the Senate in the spring, and will now return to the Senate, where legislators will vote on the changes the House made to the law.
Cyberstalking—a term that includes electronic communication technologies under previously existing stalking laws—is already a Class 2 misdemeanor. This means that tracking someone with GPS without their permission will also be a misdemeanor. And while the first offense does not include any potential jail time, repeat offenders could end up behind bars.
The legislation includes some provisions that make exceptions for the activities of private investigators. However, private investigators cannot use GPS trackers simply to monitor the integrity, honesty, or character of a person. Regular citizens, though, need to be aware of the potential change to the law or they may find themselves facing a criminal charge they didn’t even know existed.
Stalking and Harassment Laws in North Carolina
Legally, stalking is defined as following or harassing another person. Activities that are legal under other circumstances can be considered stalking if the victim finds the perpetrator’s behavior threatening.
For example, waiting outside a person’s work or sending them love notes are not illegal activities in and of themselves. They could be considered criminal, however, if the behavior occurred on multiple occasions, and if the subject found the actions to be threatening or emotionally distressing.
North Carolina law considers behavior that “torments, terrorizes, or terrifies that person and that serves no legitimate purpose” to be harassment. Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-277.3., if an individual engages in harassing behavior more than once, it may be considered stalking.
According to this statute, stalking is a Class A1 misdemeanor, punishable by probation and any other penalties the court deems appropriate. If the individual continues to engage in the conduct prohibited by the court order, they can be charged with a Class H felony, which carries a sentence of 4 to 25 months. If a person is convicted of stalking a second time, the charge is upgraded to a Class F felony—punishable by 10 to 41 months of incarceration.
Cyberstalking and Cyberharassment: 21st Century Crimes
Cyberstalking and cyberharassment are forms of harassment that occur through electronic communication, like text messages, social media, and email. Bullying, threatening, or harassing someone on the internet can often be prosecuted under harassment laws predating the internet and other modern forms of communication. The specific language of these laws, however, makes prosecuting crimes easier for law enforcement.
The statute § 14-196.3 defines electronic communication as “Any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature, transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, computer, electromagnetic, photoelectric, or photo-optical system.” This comprehensive list of new communication technology encompasses most forms of modern communication.
As mentioned before, cyberstalking is a Class 2 misdemeanor. However, those accused could be prosecuted by more traditional stalking laws as well. Convicted individuals could also face harsher punishments for repeat offenses.
If you’ve been charged with stalking – on the internet or off – your reputation and freedom are on the line. For the best possible chance at beating the charges you face, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
About the Author
Attorney Mike Schlosser represents victims of personal injury, those charged with a crime, as well as those facing traffic charges. A former Guilford County, North Carolina District Attorney, Schlosser has been in private practice at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett since 1983 and has been a member of the North Carolina State Bar since 1973.