What is Harassment?
Harassing conduct in Illinois is knowing conduct which is not necessary to accomplish a purpose that is reasonable under the circumstances that would cause a reasonable person emotional distress and does indeed cause emotional distress to another. Generally, it is conduct which is intentionally directed at someone and annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms or puts that person in fear of their safety.
A person commits harassment through electronic communications when they use electronic communication for any of the following purposes (720 ILCS 5/26.5-3):
- Making any comment, suggestion or request which is obscene with an intent to offend;
- Interrupting, with the intent to harass, the telephone or electronic communication service of any person
- Transmitting to any person, with the intent to harass, any file, document or communication which prevents use of the telephone or electronic communications device;
- Transmitting or knowingly inducing a person to transmit an electronic communication for the purpose of harassing another person who is under 13 years of age, regardless of whether they consent to the harassment, if the defendant is at least 16 years of age at the time of the commission of the offense;
- Threatening injury to the person or to the property of the person to whom an electronic communication is directed or to any of his or her family or household members; or
- Knowingly permitting any electronic communications device to be sued for any of the purposes mentioned above.
Electronic Communications may encompass any transfer of signs, signals, writings, images, sounds, data by wire, radio, electromagnetic, photoelectric or photo-optical systems, as well as communications by telephone, cellular phone, computer, pager, emails, instant messages, text messages or voice mail.
Most first-offense harassment charges in Illinois are Class B misdemeanors, meaning that the maximum penalty is up to 6 months in the county jail. Second-offense harassment charges are generally Class A misdemeanors, which can be punished by up to a year in the county jail.
If an individual consents to the actions above, criminal liability is negated. However, they must be 13 years old or older. Therefore, if a person is 12 years old and consents to transmission of any of the above communications, and the sender is at least 16 years old, the sender may still be charged and convicted of Harassment through Electronic Communications. It would also be raised from a misdemeanor to a felony. A second, or subsequent, violation of this law mandates a minimum jail term of 14 days or 240 hours of community service.
The Illinois crime of Transmission of obscene messages is defined in 720 ILCS 5/26.5-1
The Illinois crime of Harassment by telephone is defined by 720 ILCS 5/26.5-2
The Illinois crime of Harassment through electronic communications is defined by 720 ILCS 5/26.5-3
What can I do if I believe that I am being Harassed?
If some is simply being unpleasant, you should try your best to stay away from them and avoid all communication with them. If you continually feel threatened or unsafe (if someone, your first step should be to call the police. Oftentimes, this can stop the harassing behavior. If your issue is still not resolved, you can choose to seek legal help and/or a court Order of Protection. You can contact us for a free initial consultation to determine your options.
What is defamation, libel and slander?
If you are the victim of defamation or harassment you need to understand the law. Certain elements need to be met, and these vary based on the type of help you are seeking. There is often confusion between defamation, libel and slander. There are also differences when false statements are being made online, although courts treat defamation on the internet similar to offline defamation.
First, what is Defamation?
Defamation is an unprivileged false statement of fact which harms the reputation of a person or a company. It encompasses both libel and slander. It is any falsehood, spoken or written, that is meant to incite hate or contempt toward another party.
So what is libel?
When defamation is in written form, such as on a website or a comment on an article, website, bulletin board, or post online, it is termed libel. This could also include negative reviews or blog posts.
What is slander?
Defamation that is not in written form falls under the label of slander. This could encompass such things as podcasts, audio files, transcribed videos, etc – it is spoken.
Can I stop someone from spreading negative things about me?
There are certain elements that need to be met in order to be able to proceed with a defense against defamation.
First, it will need to be proved that there was a publication to one other than the person defamed, that is understood to be concerning the person being defamed. The statement must be proven to have been made to a third party.
We will also have to prove that the statement is a false statement of fact. It cannot merely be an opinion. A fact can be proven to be true or false, unlike opinions. Opinions are typically not actionable as defamation. Keep in mind that merely labeling a statement as being an “opinion” does not make it so. Courts look at whether a reasonable reader or listener could understand the statement as being a proven fact or falsity – a statement of verifiable fact.
In addition to being false, the statement of fact must harm your reputation or the reputation of your company or business.
The false statement that is causing harm must be made without adequate due diligence or research into the truthfulness of the statement. Or, you can attempt to prove that the false statement of fact was made with full knowledge that it is false.
There is an additional requirement of proving actual “malice” if you are a celebrity or public official – you will need to prove that the person spreading the information intended to cause harm or acted with reckless disregard of the truth in making the statements. A private person claiming defamation only has to prove that the offender acted negligently – as in, a “reasonable person” would not have published the defamatory statement. A public figure will need to show that the offender published with knowledge of the falsity or in reckless disregard for the truth.
Illinois is a Per Se State. This means that you can sue an offender without having to prove damages to your reputation or economic well-being if the defamation is inherently slanderous or libelous. For example, stating that the plaintiff is engaging in criminal activity, being a danger to people, calling into question the plaintiff’s ethics, or stating that they are engaging in sexual immorality. These are defamatory per se because the harm to the plaintiff’s reputation is inherent in the statement.
Who are public figures?
Public figures are people who are actively sought to influence the resolution of a matter of public interest. This would include government employees, city attorneys, senators, presidential candidates. It also includes someone who may be a limited purpose public figure – someone who voluntarily participates in a discussion about a public controversy and has access to the media to get his or her own view across. People can become involuntary limited-purpose public figures, such as an air traffic controller on duty at the time of a fatal crash, due to their role in a major public occurrence or members of an activist group who spoke with reporters at public events. Corporations are not always public figures, they are judged by the same standards as individuals.
In Illinois, the standard deadline for filing a defamation lawsuit in Illinois is one year after the defamatory statement is made, according to 735 ILCS 5/13-201, which sets this deadline for the filing of any civil action seeking a remedy “for slander, libel or for publication of matter violating the right of privacy.” If you are under 18 at the time the statement was made or under a legal disability, you will have two years to file the lawsuit upon reaching the age of 18 or having the legal disability removed (735 ILCS 5/13-211). If the person who made the statement was out of state for any period of time beginning on the date the statement was made, their absence will not be counted as part of the one-year filing period. (735 ILCS 5/13-208) Illinois recognizes the Single Publication Rule for Statue of Limitations purposes.
What if someone is accusing me of defaming them?
Truth, opinion, privilege and fair reporting are viable defenses in Illinois defamation cases.
Websites and webmasters are not held responsible for defamatory third-party content, under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Cease and Desist Letters
Cease and desist letters are so popular because of the variety of circumstances in which they may be used, and the weight they carry with those who receive them. These letters are the best way to make a formal request for someone to stop an activity that you believe is violating your legal rights. Cease and desist letters provide a clear notice – stop your unlawful behavior or face consequences in a court of law. The most common uses for using a cease and desist letter are outlined below.
- Stop Trademark and Copyright Infringement
- Stop Invasions of Privacy, Stalking and Harassment
- Stop Libel or Slander
- Stop a Nuisance
- Stop Breach of Contract
- Stop Property Boundary Encroachment
- Stop Debt Collectors
A cease and desist letter is a “demand letter” sent to an individual or business by a third party who believes that their legal rights have been infringed. Failure to comply with a cease and desist order is punishable by the courts, although a cease and desist letter by itself is not a guarantee of a lawsuit. If you are the recipient of a cease and desist letter, an attorney can help counsel and guide your response efforts. They will analyze the demand with your position in mind in order to determine whether the claim is frivolous or legitimate. This analysis guides a response strategy, which can range from a simple response detailing your denial of claims; filing a declaratory judgment, or steering negotiations and settlement in your favor.