Burrillville Cyberbullying Incident Leads to Suspension

As reported in the March 16, 2012 edition of the Providence Journal, six (6) teenagers at Burrillville High School have been suspended for charges of cyberbullying. The alleged cyberbullying occurred after a physical fight in the school. According to the school, roughly thirty (30) students were involved in a Facebook dialogue regarding the fight. Although the students have been suspended from school, it is unclear if they will face any criminal charges.

Pursuant to Rhode Island General Laws 11-52-4.2, cyberbullying is defined as:

Whoever transmits any communication by computer or other electronic device to any person or causes any person to be contacted for the sole purpose of harassing that person or his or her family. For the purpose of this section, "harassing" means any knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person which seriously alarms, annoys, or bothers the person, and which serves no legitimate purpose. The course of conduct must be of a kind that would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, or be in fear of bodily injury. "Course of conduct" means a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time, evidencing a continuity of purpose. Constitutionally protected activity is not included within the meaning of "course of conduct."

If convicted of cyberbullying, the penalties include a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500), by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both. Cyberbullying can also be considered a domestic violence crime. Therefore, additional penalties such as domestic violence counseling can also be imposed. If a no contact order or restraining order is issued, such an order prohibits any and all Internet contact as well as physical contact. If a person is convicted of cyberstalking or cyberharassment and there is a restraining order already in place, the penalties include:

(a) Whenever there is a restraining order or injunction issued by a court of competent jurisdiction enjoining one person from harassing another person, and the person so enjoined is convicted of the crime as set forth in section 11-52-4.2 for actions against the person protected by the court order or injunction, he or she shall be guilty of a felony which shall be punishable by imprisonment for not more than two (2) years, or by a fine of not more than six thousand dollars ($6,000), or both.

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