Sunday, August 17, 2008

Michigan woman charged with cyber-stalking

Police say messages posted to a blog were threatening, harassing

In an electronic age which makes every text-message, e-mail and blog entry part of cyberspace permanent record, a particularly vicious break-up can lead to criminal charges as well as broken hearts.
Frances Boensch, 28, of Essexville (Michigan), found that out the hard way. After contacting police ...about what she said were threats from a former lover, Michigan State Police launched an investigation that lead to cyber-stalking charges filed against Boensch.

Boensch was free on a $5,000 bond after being arraigned last week in Bay County District Court on a charge of stalking via posting a threatening message on the Internet.

If convicted of the felony, she faces up to two years in prison.

Boensch works at Delta College, teaching her colleagues to avoid sexual harassment.

But police and prosecutors have decided that entries in Boensch's blog, along with content of text messages and e-mails to the alleged victim, amount to Internet stalking.

In 1993, Michigan became the first state to make "electronic stalking" a crime, but Bay County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Nancy Borushko said this is the first case that she personally has been involved in.
"As more people have access to the Internet and get more comfortable online, I think we may see more charges like this," Borushko said. "We're not talking about protected speech here, we're talking about things that make the victim feel terrorized, threatened or molested."
The Times was unable to reach Boensch, of 886 N. York Drive, for comment.

Her defense attorney, Joseph S. Scorsone, said he advises his clients not to make statements while charges are pending, but that he will be prepared to make a statement on her behalf after the preliminary evidence hearing, set for Aug. 12.

The blog - frandazzel.com - has been cleared of the previous content, and the lone page at the address [used to show] a photo of Boensch's face, wearing sunglasses, in a cemetery full of white crosses.
"With much sadness, I have to report that frandazzel has died," the message said. "She was brutally raped and murdered for reasons unknown to us at this time."
The police report prepared by Michigan State Police Trooper Elizabeth Hunt, however, contains copies various blog postings, e-mails and text-messages. A blog - short for Web log - is like an online diary.

Hunt launched an investigation after Boensch, herself, called Delta College police to report that she was being threatened by someone via e-mail who claimed to have semi-nude photos of her that were about to be printed and distributed.

While no criminal charges stemmed from that incident, Hunt spoke to the person identified as the suspect, a former lover of Boensch, who provided additional information about the blog and other communications from Boensch.

"With technology," Borushko said, "things can be saved for a very long time."

Ironically, in literature distributed by Boensch to Delta employees, she urges her colleagues to "record the date and time" of any threatening actions by another and to "save all e-mails, voicemails, and messages that relate to the complaint."

What is Internet stalking?

Michigan Compiled Law 750.411s forbids a person from posting a message 'through the use of any medium of communication, including the Internet or a computer, computer program, computer system, or computer network, or other electronic medium of communication, without the victim's consent' if several other factors are present.

Those factors are:

• The poster realizes 'that posting the message could cause two or more separate noncontinuous acts of unconsented contact with the victim.'

• Posting the message is intended to cause conduct that would make the victim feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.

• Conduct arising from posting the message would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress and to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.

• Conduct arising from posting the message causes the victim to suffer emotional distress and to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.

Conviction is punishable by up to two years in prison and $5,000 in fines.

However, if the posting results in a credible threat against the victim, violates probation or a restraining order or if the victim is under 18 and five years younger than the perpetrator, the crime in punishable by up to five years in prison.

The section does not prohibit constitutionally protected speech or activity.


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