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Being Charged with a Crime Doesn’t Make You a Criminal

Ignorance of the law is no excuse.  A common phrase applied as a maxim throughout history.  It’s a fact of the legal system we’re forced to deal with on a daily basis.  Ordinarily this applies in a fairly common sense way.  The crime of murder is not excused by any claim that a Defendant didn’t know murder was against the law.  The crime of assault is not excused by any claim that a Defendant didn’t know he wasn’t allowed to strike another person.  Courts will only concern themselves with whether a Defendant intended to commit the act for which they have been charged.  But a conflict can arise when a law is written so vaguely and so broadly as to encompass everyday acts.  Acts which the legislature has deemed criminal but the ordinary citizen would have no reasonable way to guard against.  Many examples of this exist but in particular the Utah Electronic Communication Harassment Law is worth pointing out.

Utah Code Section 76-9-201 defines Electronic Communication Harassment as follows:

(2) A person is guilty of electronic communication harassment and subject to prosecution in the jurisdiction where the communication originated or was received if with intent to annoy, alarm, intimidate, offend, abuse, threaten, harass, frighten, or disrupt the electronic communications of another, the person:

(a)
(i) makes repeated contact by means of electronic communications, whether or not a conversation ensues; or

 

(ii) after the recipient has requested or informed the person not to contact the recipient, and the person repeatedly or continuously:

(A) contacts the electronic communication device of the recipient; or

 

(B) causes an electronic communication device of the recipient to ring or to receive other notification of attempted contact by means of electronic communication;

 

(b) makes contact by means of electronic communication and insults, taunts, or challenges the recipient of the communication or any person at the receiving location in a manner likely to provoke a violent or disorderly response;

 

(c) makes contact by means of electronic communication and threatens to inflict injury, physical harm, or damage to any person or the property of any person; or

 

(d) causes disruption, jamming, or overload of an electronic communication system through excessive message traffic or other means utilizing an electronic communication device

The practical implication of this law is that if you send 2 or more text messages to someone intending to annoy them, whether they write back or not, you are guilty of a Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail.  Examples of other Class B Misdemeanors include: Assault, Driving Under the Influence, Theft and Drug Possession.  All crimes of equivalent severity according to the Utah Legislature.  Extreme care must be taken in the modern world of smart phones, email, and electronic communication because prosecutors and police officers have wide latitude in the arrest and prosecution of these types of crimes.

If you or a family member have been charged with Utah Electronic Communication Harassment, contact an attorney who understands the law and understands how to protect your rights.  Contact Ryan N. Holtan for a free consultation at 801-495-4104.  As a reminder, Being Charged with a Crime Doesn’t Make You a Criminal