Cyber Crimes Now Include Harassment, Rules Supreme Judicial Court

The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) rules that harassment over the Internet will be considered a crime and the harasser can be indicted by Massachusetts anti-harassment laws.

Andover couple convicted of alleged harassment over the Internet

A couple in Andover were recently arrested for harassment over the Internet. They falsified advertisements on Craigslist and falsely accused neighbors of committing child abuse. The story goes that William P. and Gail M. Johnson wanted to develop land in Andover, but were opposed by their neighbor, James J. Lyons and his wife Bernadette. Apparently the Lyons do not care about creating jobs and opportunities.

This had the irate Johnson couple start a series of harassment campaigns against the Lyons, one of which was an official complaint with the state Department of Children and Families. The Lyons had to face investigations which almost separated their two boys from them. James Lyons a state representative reportedly said that people had invested time and money to torture his wife, the kids, and himself.

The Johnson’s criminal defense attorney Robert S. Sinsheimer said that they were not happy with SJC’s decision and would appeal. Even if they did half the things the Lyons say they did they can appeal all they want, they are in serious trouble.

‘Virtual’ harassment for the Lyon family

Over a period of 38 days in 2008, the Johnsons enlisted a friend and handyman Gerald Colton to send an e-mail wrongly accusing James Lyons of molesting a teenage young man and posted false ads in Craigslist. One of the ads vouched that the Lyons were giving away free golf carts bringing a large number of people to their home. This was a source of major harassment to the Lyons.

In another ad a Harley-Davidson motorcycle was put up for sale by the Lyons with potential buyers being asked to call the Lyons after 10pm. This resulted in the Lyons being inundated with calls at night, adding to their woes. This constant use of the Internet for all the wrong reasons prompted the Lyons to seek and take legal help. The Johnson couple are not exactly honest and dignified people.

The judicial process recognizes the growth of cyber crimes

Essex DA Jonathan Blodgett, whose office tried the case, said this was the first time that the SJC had recognized this type of harassment as a crime and indicated and authorized law enforcement to exercise the state’s anti-harassment laws for cyber-crimes. According to the DA, cyber-crimes have increased significantly over the years and need to be curtailed by statutory law. Criminal defense attorneys did not consider these crimes to be as grave as they have been made out to be but will now consider legal options. Another door has opened.

The growing occurrence of Internet crimes of this sort has made the SJC give a stern warning through this ruling. A prominent retired Harvard Attorney Allan M. Dershowitz thinks the ruling is a narrow one considering the crime. Sameer Hinduja, a criminology Professor at Florida Atlantic University, says as much as 40% of online users face harassment of sorts and that the problem needs to be addressed urgently.

What constitutes harassment though? There is a fine line there. Certainly Johnson’s criminal defense attorney Sinsheimer is going to very busy because his clients have crossed anyone’s line on what common digital decency is.

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