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How Will Texas’ New David’s Law Affect Cyberbullying?

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Cyberbullying is on the rise in Texas and throughout the United States. Although cyberbullying is a relatively recent phenomenon, it’s a big threat to young people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that suicide rates among teens and young adults continue to climb each year.

David’s Law (S.B. 179), named for a 16-year-old student who was harassed by his classmates, came about after David Molak’s suicide. His parents worked with Texas Senator José Menéndez to hold cyberbullies responsible when online intimidation and harassment lead to suicide or severe injury of a minor. David’s Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit organization, was established by David Molak’s family with the goals of ending cyberbullying and cyberabuse through education.

What is David’s Law?

Senate Bill 179 was passed by the Texas State Senate and House of Representatives earlier this year. Governor Greg Abbott signed S.B. 179 into law in June 2017. The law takes effect on September 1, 2017. It adds protections relating to cyberbullying and cyberabuse of students.

Previously, Texas lawmakers passed legislation concerning online harassment through impersonation [Tex. Penal Code § 33.07]. Online harassment, called cyberstalking in some states, is a criminal offense that’s committed on computers and computing devices. It is a felony offense to use another individual’s name or persona to create online content or to post on a network or social media sites when such action is employed to defraud, intimidate, or threaten another person.

Although some have argued that the statute undermines Constitutional rights to free speech, others recognize that words can harm. David’s Law specifically protects vulnerable young people from cyberbullies, harassment, and intimidation.

How will David’s Law help administrators improve school policies?

David’s Law requires Texas schools to intervene when bullying or cyberbullying incidents are suspected. It requires school districts to improve their policies. If a teacher or administrator suspects that cyberbullying is occurring, they must act. The parent of a cyberbully may be held responsible for their child’s actions in some cases. A victim’s family may have the right to bring a lawsuit against the bully’s parents.

Have you or a loved one been charged with cyberbullying?
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How does it relate to cyberbullying of students?

David Molak was a Texas student who was harassed and threatened online. He was bullied on social media, not at school or in the locker room.

David’s Law empowers law enforcement and school administrators to pursue and address bullies preying on students. While the law focuses on rehabilitation, it offers solutions through the following measures:

  • The law requires Texas school districts to create cyberbullying policies and to include them in district policies. Schools must notify the child’s parents if he or she has been bullied or if he or she is allegedly bullying another individual.
  • David’s Law requires Texas school districts to develop systems that allow students and others to anonymously report threats and incidents of bullying.
  • It provides school districts with the ability to investigate off-campus bullying if it “materially” affects the environment at school and allows law enforcement and schools to collaborate on ensuing investigations.
  • David’s Law gives Texas school districts more latitude to put students in disciplinary or alternative education programs or expel students who commit serious bullying behaviors, e.g. coercing a child to attempt or commit suicide.
  • Law enforcement has the increased ability to identify anonymous social media posters through subpoenas.

David’s Law makes it a misdemeanor to bully or harass anyone less than 18 years of age through social media, apps, texts, or other methods. Modeled after a similar law in Maryland, David’s Law focuses on the provision of rehabilitative and counseling services to both victims and aggressors.

How will law enforcement investigate potential cyberbullying incidents?

Under David’s Law, an act of cyberbullying is a misdemeanor crime. Investigators work undercover to unmask the identities of those who threaten others through the “anonymity” of the Internet. After the individual’s identity is discovered, he or she may receive a subpoena issued by a Texas court.

Schools will now be required to report student or parent complaints of bullying to law enforcement. When law enforcement receives notice of a bullying incident, it may proceed to interview teachers, staff, parents, and students to collect additional information. If law enforcement believes the law has been broken, it will authorize an investigation team to scrutinize social media posts, emails, texts, and so on. Criminal charges will be filed if a student has broken the law.

How will punishments affect the high rates of cyberbullying we see today?

Public health statisticians tell us that cyberbullying crimes continue to rise. In 2011, Texas legislators added cyberbullying to the Texas Education Code. Until David’s Law was passed, legal punishments for cyberbullies weren’t fully defined.

Now, bullying is an act in which 1)a student harms another student, 2) results in one student damaging the property of another, or 3) a student is placed in a state of “reasonable” concern of harm.

A verbal, physical, written, or electronic communication may be considered bullying under the law. If a student causes his or her peer to feel fear, or threatens the student’s ability to focus on learning at school, or actually creates a disruption of the school’s usual functions, this is considered bullying under the law.

David’s Law is designed to both prevent and educate would-be cyberbullies. School districts in Texas will implement mental health programs that target cyberbullying behaviors and suicide prevention.

On September 1, 2017, cyberbullying offenders face Class B misdemeanor charges in Texas. If convicted, the defendant faces a six-month jail sentence plus a maximum $2,000 fine. In some instances, the charge may be elevated to a Class A misdemeanor.

If the offender has a prior record of bullying, or if the offender has bullied someone less than 18 years old for the express purpose of encouraging the victim to commit suicide or injure himself, he or she will face 12 months in jail plus a maximum $4,000 fine. In addition, he or she faces enrollment in an alternative education program or expulsion from his or her current school.

If you or someone you love is charged with cyberbullying, it’s crucial to reach out to an experienced cyberbullying attorney as soon as possible. An experienced criminal defense attorney can positively affect the outcome of your case and will vigorously protect your legal rights.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Houston TX

Don’t risk the penalties associated with cyberbullying, harassment, bullying, online impersonation, or disruptive activities charges. Do everything possible to protect your personal reputation and good name. If convicted, your permanent criminal record may affect your future education and employment opportunities.

Contact Brett Podolsky, a board-certified-criminal defense attorney and former Assistant Criminal District Attorney for the state of Texas, now to schedule a confidential initial case review. The Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky stands by to take your call.

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