Florida Teenagers Face Aggravated Stalking Charges for Alleged Facebook Bullying
As a cyber crime criminal defense lawyer, I was interested to see an arrest of two teenagers here in Florida for alleged cyberbullying. The Naples News reported Jan. 13 on the arrests of 16-year-old Taylor Wynn and 15-year-old McKenzie Barker, both girls, on charges of aggravated stalking of a minor under 16. The two allegedly created a false Facebook page for the victim, who is not being named, showing her head “Photoshopped” onto a sexually explicit picture. This violates state cyberbullying laws, including the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, which strengthened criminal laws after the 2005 suicide of a Cape Coral teenager who was bullied. Wynn and Barker were sentenced to 21 days of home detention and will be arraigned Feb. 8.
The article quoted at length from a police interview with Taylor Wynn and her mother. Taylor said she used to be friends with the victim but was not anymore. She said she created the page because nobody liked the victim and she thought it would be funny. After the photo and comments about sex appeared on the fake Facebook page, the victim reportedly suffered ridicule and teasing. The page had 181 “friends” as of the article’s publication. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office said it got access to the page with help from other teenagers and traced it to an Internet addressed owned by Taylor Wynn’s mother. They also found text messages about the page sent between Wynn and Barker. A spokesperson for the school district said the felony arrests could cause the district to move the two girls into alternative schooling.
I hope the penalties are not so severe. As a cyber crime criminal defense attorney, I think this charge may be inappropriate for the situation. Like child pornography laws, Florida’s “cyberstalking of a minor” statute was likely written with adults offending against juveniles in mind -- not juveniles offending against each other. This is not to say that the girls shouldn’t be in any kind of trouble -- but the criminal charge they face is a third-degree felony, opening up the possibility that these girls will go to juvenile detention or even adult prison. In addition, the girls would also have a felony conviction hanging over their heads as they enter adult life, which can take away opportunities like student loans and military service. That’s why, as a cyberstalking criminal defense lawyer, I believe it’s best to handle student-on-student crimes through the schools whenever possible. When cases do enter the court system, I advocate for a response that takes into account the teen’s age and potential for rehabilitation.
If you or someone you love is facing cyber crime charges anywhere in the U.S., you should call Seltzer Law, P.A. right away. Our lead attorney, David Seltzer, is an experienced former cyber crime prosecutor for the Miami-Dade prosecutor’s office and understands the technology, even when prosecutors and police do not. To set up a free consultation, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, you can contact us through our website or call toll-free at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).