Albany County, New York enacted a “cyberbullying” law, under which a juvenile was convicted. He entered a guilty plea, reserving the right to appeal. As this report was produced, the case was pending before the New York Court of Appeals. Retired Judge Eugene Hyman discusses the case and the issues involved.
Judge Hyman points out that the law is similar to a California law banning what a reasonable person would deem a threat and have fear for personal safety. Judge Hyman notes that the California law has been held constitutional and suggests that this could be a guideline for drafting cyberbullying laws. Annoyance or harassment may not be conduct that can be forbidden.
The defendant in this case was charged under county law, as New York has no statute on the subject that would have preempted a county law. The defendant here, a juvenile at the time, created a Facebook page on which he posted offensive material about other teen-agers.
Judge Hyman opines that the NY Court of Appeals could hold that the county statute was overly broad for several reasons. Subsequent to this report, on July 1, 2014, the NY Court of Appeals overturned the law, holding that the statute was overly broad based on U.S. Supreme Court decisions and that judicially rewriting the law to make it acceptable would “[encroach] on the authority of the legislative body that crafted the provision.” People v. Marquan M., 2014 NY Slip Op 04881 (NY Ct. App. 7/1/14).
Since the decision of the Court of Appeals, the Albany County legislature has made another try at writing an acceptable cyberbullying law. As of December, 2013, more than half the states have laws against cyberbullying or cyberstalking.
Honorable Judge Eugene Hyman has received numerous awards and recognition for his work with families and children and has appeared on numerous television news shows. For more information, visit www.judgehyman.com. He is also a featured commentator on The Family Law Channel and The Legal Broadcast Network. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.