Of many cases on the docket for the New York State Court of Appeals, the highest court of the state of New York, the Albany County case regarding the constitutionality of a cyberbullying combating law due to its restriction of free speech is to be heard before the court this week.
On the month of November in 2010, the Albany local legislature initiated and unanimously passed a law which prohibited cyberbullying in its county with reason being that “Albany County should do everything in its power to protect its residents from such reprehensible behavior.” The bill defined cyberbullying as “any act of communicating or causing a communication to be sent by mechanical or electronic means … with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, abuse … otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on one person” and once in effect, anyone who knowingly violates it is “guilty of an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year imprisonment.”
Since the passage of the law, few cyberbullying cases have been brought to attention and individuals have been charged. One recent case occurred in November of 2013, when four high school students were charged after they harassed their classmates in a “profanity-laced rap music video.”
Critics of the law argue that schools, not criminal courts, are the better place to stop cyberbullying, believing that education is the key in addressing the problem. In addition, opponents also fear that the law will reduce people’s right to free speech.
However, proponents of the law argue that laws need to be put in place to protect the safety of the younger generation. Thomas Marcelle, the controversial Albany County Attorney in favor of the law, commented in an article, “Albany County simply is punishing those whose actions are aimed to inflict emotional injury on a minor by false and abusive speech. The state Court of Appeals should take the opportunity to protect children who are bullied through the Internet and uphold the county’s Cyberbullying Law.”
The verdict reached by the New York State Court of Appeals on the case could have far-reaching consequences, as it will be the first time a high court decides the constitutionality of criminalizing cyberbullying. Once the decision has been made, it could potentially affect cyberbullying laws of 19 different states, and four other New York counties.