The Supreme Court announced on Friday they will hear an appeal to a conviction for online stalking in a case that involves the First Amendment, as the White House calls for more attention to be placed on stalking and related crimes during National Stalking Awareness Month.
“Being stalked, whether in-person or online, means having to worry about your safety at work, at school, in public, and even at home. It can mean having to uproot your life, leave your job, and suffer physical and psychological harms,” President Joe Biden said when proclaiming January 2023 the Nineteenth Annual National Stalking Awareness Month back in December.
“It is essential that we bring these offenses out of the shadows, making it unmistakably clear that violence, displays of unwanted attention that cause someone to fear for their safety or suffer substantial emotional distress, and other abuses of power will not stand,” Biden said. “This month, let us strengthen stalking prevention efforts, amplify the voices of survivors, and hold stalkers accountable.”
Now, the Supreme Court has decided to hear an online stalking case that hinges on threatening statements made online.
Billy Counterman was convicted for what prosecutors called threatening statements made to a Colorado musician on Facebook. Counterman says that the charges violate his first amendment right to free speech and the Supreme Court has been asked to consider Counterman’s intent.
The court has held that the constitution doesn’t protect speech that constitutes a “true threat,” something an “objectively reasonable person” would interpret as a serious expression of “an intent to cause a present or future harm.”
Criminal Stalking Cases
A number of sentences and charges for stalking and related offenses have been announced so far during Stalking Awareness Month, many including charges of attempted extortion and blackmail and targeting children.
On Tuesday, a Hilton, New York man was sentenced to 27 months in prison for cyberstalking. David Guest harassed his victim endlessly, and posted nude photos of them on social media sites, sent nudes to the victim’s friends and family and attempted to extort photos from the victim using fake social media accounts.
That same day, a man in San Antonio, Texas, was sentenced to 17 years in prison in a similar cyberstalking case that also involved extortion and child pornography charges. Jaycob Andrew Bustamante distributed child pornography featuring his minor victim and, like Guest, harassed his victim and his victim’s family with the photos on social media.
“The defendant in this case extorted and harassed a victim to the point she genuinely felt her life was threatened,” U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza said.
“Cyberstalking and online extortion of children and adults is one of the fastest growing crimes,” Esparza warned. “We and our partners are committed to holding accountable anyone who uses the internet and social media to terrorize, extort and stalk their victims.”
In another cyberstalking case out of San Francisco, Ramajana Demirovic was sentenced to 37 months in prison for a harassment and intimidation scheme spanning over a year. Demirovic pleaded guilty to the seven federal cyberstalking charges and one charge of conspiracy to commit cyberstalking against her in August and, as part of a plea agreement, admitted to sending hundreds of abusive messages meant to sabotage the lives of her victims.
Demirovic targeted the ex-friends and boyfriends of her daughter, harassing them and often leveling false accusations of assault and other criminal behavior against her victims. In at least one case, Demirovic created social media accounts impersonating her victim to destroy his reputation.
Former Police Chief William Pruitt has been charged with aggravated stalking of a 14-year-old victim in Central Florida. Pruitt was briefly a police chief in Center Hill, Florida, between 1998-1999. Pruitt was already facing charges for sexual battery, WESH2 reports.
Pruitt allegedly told the child that, because he was an ex-cop, he had his ‘detective friends’ hack her phone and track her, Lake County Sheriff’s Lt. Fred Jones said.
An Ohio man was sentenced on Tuesday to 151 months in federal prison and 15 years of supervision after pleading guilty to cyberstalking, attempted sexual exploitation of a child and interstate communication with intent to extort. Andrew Drabic used ‘social engineering’ hacking methods to steal social media accounts and then blackmailed his victims using their private images and information.