by Mary Agramonte
The State of Georgia has criminalized the offense of making harassing communications to another. There are several different acts that fall under this statute, codified at O.C.G.A. § 16-11-39.1. From phone contact to text messages to a multitude of other social media apps, it is unlawful to make harassing communications to another person. But what is considered harassing? And how much communication is too much before it becomes a criminal matter?
Under Georgia law, it is illegal to contact another person repeatedly via phone, e-mail, text message, or any other form of electronic communication for the purpose of harassing, threatening, or intimidating a person or family of such. This means that the State has to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the purpose of the communication was to harass, threaten, or intimidate. This also means that more than one call or text has to occur under this subsection of the statute. In many cases, both lack of intent and lack of repetition is where the defense of the case will lie.
On the other hand, you can also be arrested and charged for making Harassing Communication if in that call or text, you threaten bodily harm. This means you can also be charged under this statute if you made only one phone call, or sent one text, or one email if that one message was a threat of harm. Threatening communication or threatening harm to another is not typically protected by the First Amendment, and thus is not protected by our right to free speech. At times, however, the State gets this wrong and the communication is protected if there was no threat of harm.
Harassing communications is a misdemeanor offense in Georgia, which means the maximum punishment is 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine for each offense. The offense will be prosecuted in the county where either the person made the phone call or sent the text, or where the phone call or text was received.
The offense of harassing communications does not merge with other offenses, which affects sentencing in criminal cases. For example, you can commit both a Terroristic Threat and a Harassing Communication simultaneously, but be charged and sentenced for both crimes, which can increase the overall sentence. You can learn more about Terroristic Threats here: https://www.peachstatelawyer.com/terroristic-threats-georgia/.
There are several options and defenses in Harassing Communications cases in Georgia. Many counties in metro Atlanta and throughout Georgia offer Diversion programs for this charge. This means that in some situations, the criminal case can be dismissed after successfully completing a program that may involve classes and community service. In all criminal cases, jury and bench trials can be a great option to accomplish the goals of someone who has been wrongfully accused. If you or a loved one has been charged with Harassing Communications or Terroristic Threats in Georgia, call W. Scott Smith today for a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999.