Bullying in Virginia Brings Serious Criminal Consequences

by J.D. Garrett on October 19, 2013

“I’m jumping. I can’t take it anymore.” This was likely the last message that 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick sent before she leapt from a building to her death. Two of her classmates were arrested for relentlessly bullying Rebecca in the weeks before her death. Bullying is not a new phenomenon to our nation’s youth, but with the advent of the Internet and social networks, schoolyard teasing has escalated to another level.

Virginia has expanded its laws to encompass a variety of conduct that is often associated with bullying – both in-person and online. What some may view as simple schoolyard teasing can ultimately result in criminal charges brought against you or your child.

Pushing & Shoving… or Assault & Battery?

Bullying Can Lead To Criminal Charges In VirginiaUnder Virginia law, assault and battery is defined as an intentional, harmful or offensive contact with another. Even if you don’t actually touch the other person, the mere apprehension of harmful contact can amount to a criminal charge. Thus, if a child pushes, shoves, or spits on another child – conduct often associated with bullying – the child can be charged with assault and battery. Likewise, threatening another student that causes a reasonable apprehension of unwanted or harmful touching can amount to an assault.

Bullying sometimes takes a vicious turn, and kids single out one another based on race, religion, and nationality. If tried as an adult, a child who commits an assault or battery against someone based on one of these protected classes will face a mandatory minimum of thirty days in jail. Finally, Virginia carries additional penalties for attacking a teacher or other school official. A fight at recess can quickly escalate and a child may face a multitude of charges.

Cellphones Create Additional Dangers

Cellphones increase the risk that criminal charges will ensue from bullying. According to Consumer Reports, nearly 60% of children between the ages of 8 and 12 now have cell phones. Virginia law has expanded the definition of threats to include text messages and emails, and specifically seeks to protect students. According to the Virginia Code, it is a Class 6 felony to communicate a threat, in writing, including emails and text messages, to kill or do bodily harm;

  •  on the grounds or premises of any elementary, middle or secondary school property,
  • at any elementary, middle or secondary school-sponsored event, or
  • on a school bus to any person or persons.

Thus, the law has adapted in response to technology to prevent bullying on and off school property.

Facebook and Twitter Can Give Rise to Criminal Charges

Virginia responded to the rise in bullying via Facebook and other social networking platforms by expanding the scope of harassment. Section 18.2-152.7:1 of the Virginia Code prohibits harassment by computer. Harassment by computer includes obscene, vulgar, profane, lewd, lascivious, or indecent language, making any suggestion or proposal of an obscene nature, or threatening any illegal or immoral act. Thus, a mean and threatening comment left on a Facebook wall can result in harassment charges.

Bullying is a serious – and growing – issue. States are taking a stand against bullying in its traditional form and cyber-bullying by expanding laws to incorporate a variety of conduct. If you or your child has been charged with a crime stemming from bullying, it is imperative that you contact a criminal defense attorney. A conviction can mean serious consequences that can follow you for the rest of your life. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys will work hard to craft your strongest defense.

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