Social Media Retaliation: Revenge or a 5-Year Felony?”

Living in the age of social media, we are seeing situations where the best way to extract revenge seems to be posting messages or going through the e-mails of others without their permission. While this may seem like a quick form of revenge for the predators of these messages, in the state of Michigan the consequences can lead to prison time. iStock_000013860209_Full-2-300x200

According to Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL) 750.411s, “If a person posts a message through any medium of communication without the victim’s consent with the intent of making the individual feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested” the defendant could face a 2-year felony, a fine of $5,000 or both and these penalties can be enhanced to a 5-year felony, a fine of $10,000 or a combination thereof. To gather more insight on how these laws are applied in our state we gathered commentary from top criminal law defense attorneys’ throughout the state of Michigan.

Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates and has built a reputation as having the top criminal defense firm in the state of Michigan. When asked about the statute in question, Grabel stated, “We see this applied a great deal in criminal defense law when someone goes through the phone of another or distributes e-mails to the authorities. Quite often, this occurs during divorce proceedings when one spouse is charged with a crime. The other spouse will go through the phone and provide harmful information to the police and/or the prosecution. What the distributor of the information fails to realize is that they just committed a felony in the process.”

Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan. McManus provided commentary when he said, “We saw a lot of this in the 2016 Presidential Election and during the Colin Kaepernick controversy. Parties from all sides of these issues would share Facebook and Instagram posts with the goal of intimidating others. While it appears to be a simple Internet spat, there has been litigation on issues such as these. We always tell clients to not take their personal issues to the web because privacy issues are relaxed.”

Jeremy Tatum is a top criminal litigator in Saginaw, Michigan and the owner of a motivational company. Tatum stated, “In both laws and in the field of motivational speaking we see this statute make regular appearances. Young people today often take to social media for a multitude of issues without thinking that they are breaking the law. This statute presents a dangerous pitfall that most do not consider when the action takes place.”

Grabel added, “This statute caught a lot of notoriety in the Walker divorce matters in 2010 and this was covered extensively by the “Detroit Free Press” and other media outlets. While that case grabbed national attention, what stuns many is that the utilization of capturing the e-mails and social media of another has become a rising issue in the Michigan criminal law sector.”

The one thing that presents a level of relief for defendants’ is that the crime requires specific intent. The mens rea must be present to be charged so the innocent individual posting a joke may have a valid defense but if the goal was to harm the victim of the metadata attack, a good defense lawyer will be needed.

William Amadeo is a Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates and a partner at Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In addition to his legal duties, Amadeo is a staff writer for “The Chronicle News” and the owner of “BAT Tutoring” in Lansing, Michigan. Amadeo can be reached at Williamamadeo@Grabellaw.com.