Criminal harassment charges in Maryland are not limited to instances in which someone harasses another person in person by following them or committing physical acts against his or her body. In a recent complicated criminal case, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals considered an email harassment case. The defendant in the case had tried to harass a pub owner and the pub’s security. It started because he had offered to sell a pub’s employee marijuana and when the employee tried to remove him, the defendant punched and bit him. A police officer came to the scene and arrested the defendant for marijuana possession and other related offenses.
Later a police officer received an email alleging that somebody in the area was involved in a marijuana grow operation. The police began an investigation, but found nothing. More than a week later, someone called 911 to report a drug dealer. He claimed that he was the neighbor of the owner of the security company and that the owner was a drug dealer growing marijuana on the steps outside his house.
A detective watched the area mentioned in the call and spotted a van that looked suspicious. Someone drove the van up and down the street. Another officer came to the scene to investigate. The police identified the defendant as the van’s driver. He told the officers he was looking for something to eat.
The officers also responded to the address that was referenced in the 911 call. They saw a baggie of marijuana in the driveway and found two small plants in the garden area, as mentioned in the 911 call. Someone who identified himself with the same name as the security company owner came to the door.
The officer asked the man if he would agree to let the officers search the place. The man agreed. The officers found no evidence of a marijuana grow operation and did not arrest the man because they didn’t think he was actually involved in narcotics distribution. They also learned that the defendant had tried to sell drugs to the man.
After they left, the police officers went back to the center where the 911 dispatchers were located and listened to the tape. They recognized the voice on the tape as the defendant that was driving up and down the street in his van.
An officer investigated and found that the call had come from a pay phone. Security footage from that location revealed the defendant’s dark van.
Meanwhile, the pub owner received an email stating the security company owner had been arrested and that his security staff was “dirty.” Some police officers also received anonymous emails that claimed the security owner was involved in a marijuana grow operation and complaining that the officers had not arrested him, as well as emails claiming that the pub was selling untaxed alcoholic drinks and untaxed cigarettes.
The officers investigated and found no basis for these claims. They continued to receive email with various similar accusations against the pub owner and security company owner.
The officers began conducting surveillance of the defendant, eventually obtaining a warrant to search his house. There they found a sheet with email addresses from which the emails with “tips” had been sent and other incriminating evidence.
The defendant was convicted of fifteen counts of email harassment of the pub owner among other things. He appealed on multiple grounds and argued among other things that the evidence was insufficient to support fifteen convictions for e-mail harassment under Maryland Code (2002) § 3-805 of the Criminal Law Article (“C.L.”). This cod sections prohibits the use of email with intent to harass one or more people by sending lewd, lascivious or obscene material.
The defendant argued that the State had not produced enough evidence to show he was the one sending the email to the pub owner and that the proper unit of prosecution was one course of conduct. Therefore, he argued, he should have been prosecuted for a pattern of harassing emails, not convicted fifteen times for fifteen emails.
The appellate court found the circumstantial evidence sufficient. Though the emails were from fake email addresses, they included similar content and accusations. Several threatened the pub and included the defendant’s nickname. The emails were connected to items at the defendant’s house. The appellate court found that a jury could have concluded from the circumstantial evidence that the defendant was the author of the emails.
The State argued that the plain language of C.L. § 3-805 in effect made it clear that the proper unit of prosecution was one email. The appellate explained that the unit of prosecution in the statute was “the transmission of information” Transmission was defined as an instance. Accordingly, the appellate court agreed with the State that the fifteen convictions were appropriate.
If you are arrested or charged with a crime, you should consult with an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney. We will develop the best strategy we can to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
What Constitutes “Contempt of Court” in Maryland Criminal Court, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, December 12, 2013
Is Self-Defense an Available Defense in a Charge of Affray? Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, November 18, 2013