Pa. court upholds Facebook harassment ruling

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Posting a sexually insulting comment on the Facebook social media network constitutes the crime of harassment, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled in upholding a woman's criminal conviction.

Judge Christine L. Donohue, writing for the unanimous panel of Judge John T. Bender and Senior Judge Eugene B. Strassburger III, said defendant Lindsey Marie Cox committed the crime of harassment when she posted a comment on her Facebook page that the victim "has herpes. Ew, that's gross. She should stop spreading her legs like her mother."

Several of Ms. Cox's Facebook friends liked her post, according to the opinion.

Ms. Cox was 18 at the time, and the teenager she was commenting about was 15 and had just started her first day of 10th grade, according to the opinion.

A person commits the crime of harassment if, with the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm, they communicate "to or about such other person any lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings or caricatures," according to the opinion.

"Contrary to Cox's view and in light of the totality of the evidence, her misuse of the Internet and social media was criminal," Judge Donohue said.

"The evidence of record establishes that Cox posted a statement indicating that victim suffered from a sexually transmitted disease on an online forum, and that this statement was viewed by multiple people.

Elizabeth Judd of the Lebanon County public defender's office said her office would appeal the decision. While Ms. Judd said she doesn't condone her client's behavior, she said the posting was only up for an hour and she does not believe that her client's action rises to the level of the crime of harassment.

The criminal charge was "overboard in this particular case," Ms. Judd said.

The trial judge noted the post used the victim's full name and the post was available to friends of friends, Judge Donohue said.

The court also rejected the defense argument that the conviction was against the weight of the evidence. Ms. Cox was sentenced to six months of probation after being convicted by a jury trial.

The Lebanon County district attorney's office did not respond to a request for comment.

legalnews

Amaris Elliott-Engel: aelliott-engel@alm.com or 215-557-2354. Visit www.thelegalintelligencer.com.


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