A Facebook account created, email sent, or photo posted—if you do any of these in someone else’s name, you could be facing serious felony charges. Though the law was created in 2011, Texas prosecutors are now beginning to charge people under the law that could take childish pranks and turn them into life-changing criminal convictions.
According to the Star-Telegram, the law has been used to prosecute someone who posted photos of a female doctor, calling her a prostitute. It’s also been used to prosecute a woman who offered sexual favors online in return for harassing a friend she had a falling-out with. In the most extreme case, two middle-school girls were charged with felonies for creating a Facebook page under the name of a classmate, and using that account to post humiliating and threatening messages.
The law makes it a felony to impersonate someone online, whether to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten another person. If convicted, it carries two to 10 years in prison and fines reaching $10,000.
But some are concerned that, although serious, many of these cases should not turn kids into criminals. The middle-school girls in the Facebook case, for instance, were 12 and 13 years old.
Attorneys and prosecutors have strong but divergent opinions on the law’s usefulness and consequences. Many prosecutors see it as a powerful tool for cracking down on vindictive criminals. Defense attorneys are concerned that the law is far too broad and can make lampooning or goading someone a serious crime.
Critics say the law is too broad, that it applies under too many different situations, and although it includes provisions for a misdemeanor charge, it simply isn’t written tightly enough to only penalize those who truly deserve it.
It casts too wide of a net.
The motivation of the law could have spurred legislators to go too far. In 2009, a Missouri case gained national attention as a mother created a fake MySpace page in order to pursue a 13-year old girl and make her believe a young boy was interested in her. After the “boy” called things off with her and she found words like “slut” and “whore” posted on her MySpace page, she was distraught. In the end, the girl committed suicide.
A horrible case can often spur fast and reckless legislation. Many are concerned that changes will need to be made to the online impersonation law to make it more reasonable.
For now, however, it stands.
Whether you are accused of online impersonation, threatening someone, or identity theft, you need someone on your side to ensure your rights are protected and to help you get the best results possible on your case. Contact our offices today for a free consultation and to see how we can help.