Friday, October 10, 2008


As I explained in an earlier post, the crime of harassment essentially consists of using telephonic or electronic communications to “harass, alarm or annoy” another person.

This post is about a New York case in which the court dismissed charges of harassment against an 18-year-old boy who professed his love for a 14-year-old girl online.

The case is People v. Rodriguez, 19 Misc. 3d 830, 860 N.Y.S.2d 859 (N.Y. City Crim. Ct. 2008). The boy was charged with harassment based on two incidents, the first of which
occurred between 4 a.m. on August 29, 2007, and 4:00 a.m. on August 30, 2007. The Complaint alleges that on that date, Defendant sent the Complainant an unspecified number of messages through the Myspace website, and that these messages stated, in substance, `I love you;’ `we need to be together’ `I will see you every day;’ and `I will never stop trying to talk to you.’ The . . . Complainant A.F. knew these messages came from the Defendant because she recognized his picture and his Myspace messaging name: `Looking 4 the right one in my life,’ both of which appeared with the messages he sent. These messages allegedly caused the Complainant to fear the Defendant, and to become alarmed and annoyed. According to the superseding Information, the Defendant and Complainant were then 18 and 14, years old, respectively. . . .

The second incident . . . occurred on October 29, 2007, at the Complainant's home. The Complaint alleges that [defendant] was repeatedly asked to leave Complainant's house by A.F.'s father, John F., and had to be physically removed from the property. The Complaint further states that on the same day, the Defendant said to Complainant A.F., in substance, `don't listen to your parents;’ `come away with me,’ and `I want to take care of you;’ and that Defendant told Complainant A.F.'s father, `I won't listen to you,’ and `I'm not going to leave your daughter alone.’ These statements allegedly alarmed and annoyed both father and daughter, and made A.F. afraid of Defendant.
People v. Rodriguez, supra.

Rodriguez moved to dismiss the charges as legally and factually insufficient. In ruling on his motion, the court explained that someone is guilty of harassment
`when, with intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm another person, he or she: (a) communicates with a person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, or by telegraph, mail or any other form of written communication, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm; [and] (b) causes a communication to be initiated by mechanical or electronic means or otherwise with a person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, or by telegraph, mail or any other form of written communication, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.’ [NY Penal Law’ § 240.30. Essential to both of these provisions is the element of intent, or the `conscious objective’ to threaten, harass, annoy or alarm. . . . This intent must be established from the alleged act itself, or from the defendant's conduct and the surrounding circumstances
People v. Rodriguez, supra.

The court found the criminal complaint against Rodriguez was insufficient as a matter of law: “The Complaint does not allege that the messages allegedly sent by the Defendant were intended to threaten, incite alarm, or harass. . . . There is no evidence in the Complaint that Defendant intended anything other than to declare his love for the Complainant.” People v. Rodriguez, supra. The court then elaborated on its conclusion:
The words `we need to be together;’ `I will never stop talking to you;’ and `I love you’ are not threats, but appear to be merely the symptoms of unrequited love -- the same hopeless affection that, among countless others, Dante felt for Beatrice; Don Quixote for Dulcinea; Cyrano for Roxane; Quasimodo for Esmeralda; Young Werner for Lotte; Jay Gatsby for Daisy Buchanan; an that Charlie Brown felt for the Little Red Haired Girl. While these romances do not usually end well for the pursuing party, the People have cited neither statute nor case law that might punish the communication of unrequited love, even if such is undesired. . . .

Teenagers are especially vulnerable to the `madness most discreet’ that makes sad hours seem long. Mere pages before he met Juliet, Romeo pined for Rosaline; Adrian Mole longed for Pandora Braithwaite in volume after volume of his `secret diaries;’ and Dion implored of the skies up above, `why must I be a teenager in love?’ vowing, just a few verses later, that `if you should say goodbye, I'd still go on loving you.’ When teenagers fall in love, as song lyrics and studies show, they are more likely to exhibit almost manic behaviors, take risks, act compulsively, and sometimes pursue, with reckless abandon, the objects of their affection. While the actions of a love-struck teenager may well be foolish, reckless, or otherwise acts which might not be expected from a mature adult, they are not, without more, elevated to crimes.
People v. Rodriguez, supra. After this rather colorful aside, it ordered the charges dismissed:

The allegations in the Complaint merely establish that Defendant declared his feelings for the Complainant. Conversely, the Complaint is devoid of allegations that the Defendant knew his declarations would be coldly received. The messages that form the basis of the charge of Aggravated Harassment were transmitted through Myspace, a social networking website that allows each user to choose which friends will be part of his or her network. When another Myspace user receives an invitation to be friends, he or she must choose whether or not to communicate with the requesting user. . . . At any time, a Myspace user may remove friends from his or her network, or block unwanted communications. Thus, while it is reasonable to assume that at some point, Complainant added the Defendant, under his nom de plume `looking 4 the right one in my life,’ to her list of friends, the Complaint contains no allegations that Complainant attempted to quell Defendant's love by blocking Defendant's messages or by asking him to cease writing her. We therefore find that the Complaint fails to show that the Defendant intended to alarm, threaten or annoy the Defendant. Both counts of [Penal Law] § 240.30 are accordingly dismissed.
People v. Rodriguez, supra.

No comments: