Federal vs. State: Cyberstalking

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Sep 28, 2022 | 0 Comments

In August 2022, Anthony Elonis, a Northampton County resident, was convicted of cyberstalking by the U.S. District Court. Elonis was charged with three counts of cyberstalking for three separate victims. One of these victims was a federal prosecutor. Between 2018 and 2021, Elonis harassed the federal prosecutor, both in threatening emails, text messages, Twitter communications, and on the phone.

Difference Between Pennsylvania and Federal Cyberstalking Laws

Elonis was convicted of a federal cyberstalking crime, not a Pennsylvania state crime. The difference between the two is that Pennsylvania has just begun to roll out cyberstalking laws. Generally, cyberstalking in Pennsylvania is enforced under general criminal and civil harassment and cyberbullying laws. A defendant must have had a habit that shows they intended to cause bodily harm or mental anguish to another person. This habit must have taken place online or in internet communications and prove the intent to harass to be considered cyberstalking in Pennsylvania.

While the Pennsylvania cyberstalking laws are still very new, federal cyberstalking laws date back to 2006. According to the federal law:

  1. A defendant must either use the mail, any interactive computer service or electronic communication system (like email, text messaging, and social media), or any other means of interstate or foreign commerce at least twice for it to be considered federal cyberstalking.
  2. A defendant must have acted with the intent to kill, harass, intimidate, injure, or surveil with the intent to kill, harass, intimidate, or injure another person.
  3. A defendant's actions caused some emotional response in the alleged victim. The victim must have been put into some reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm or cause, or attempt to cause, substantial emotional distress.

According to these factors above, it is clear that Elonis committed a federal crime by cyberstalking these three victims – he sent them electronic communications, which included numerous harassing statements, directly messaged them on Twitter, posted private content about his ex-girlfriend on Twitter, and spoke specifically about the federal prosecutor on Twitter. Additionally, it is a federal crime to forcibly intimidate a federal employee.

Anthony Elonis was bound for federal prison based on all of the issues above. On Counts One and Three, involving the federal prosecutor and Elonis' ex-wife and the federal prosecutor, Elonis could face up to five years in prison, supervised release after her imprisonment, and a fine. On Count Two, which was for the ex-girlfriend, who already had a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) out on him, he will be subject to up to ten years in prison because it violated the PFA.

How A Criminal Attorney Can Help

Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have spent years helping individuals navigate the complexities of defense, whether they are in federal or state court. It is time to protect yourself from any unnecessary punishments. Call 888-535-3686 today to schedule a consultation or visit us online.

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Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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