When Connecticut amended its anti-bullying law in 2011, it included a new provision requiring the school principal, or the principal’s designee, “to notify the appropriate local law enforcement agency when such principal, or the principal’s designee, believes that any acts of bullying constitute criminal conduct.” What is not made clear in the revised law is what kind of conduct may rise to a criminal level. A victim of bullying may have a claim under a civil tort theory in an instance where the level of bullying does not constitute a crime. However, some provisions of Connecticut’s criminal law may be implicated by severe, pervasive, or egregious instances of bullying in schools. So, when is cyberbullying a crime?
1. Criminal Harassment
Connecticut General Statute § 53a-182b, Harassment in the first degree, and § 53a-183, Harassment in the second degree, are Connecticut’s criminal harassment statutes. A person is guilty of harassment in the first degree when, “with the intent to harass, annoy, alarm or terrorize another person, he threatens to kill or physically injure that person or any other person, and communicates such threat by telephone, or by telegraph, mail, computer network, as defined in section 53a-250, or any other form of written communication, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm and has been convicted of [a specifically enumerated felony].”
A person is guilty of harassment in the second degree when, “(1) By telephone, he addresses another in or uses indecent or obscene language; or (2) with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person, he communicates with a person by telegraph or mail, by electronically transmitting a facsimile through connection with a telephone network, by computer network, as defined in section 53a-250, or by any other form of written communication, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm; or (3) with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person, he makes a telephone call, whether or not a conversation ensues, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.”
2. Bias Crimes
A person is guilty of intimidation based on bigotry or bias when such person maliciously, and with specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of the actual or perceived race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression of such other person, causes serious physical injury to such other person or to a third person. Furthermore, a person is guilty of intimidation based on bigotry or bias when such person maliciously, and with specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of the actual or perceived race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression of such other person, does any of the following:
(1) Causes physical contact with such other person;
(2) Damages, destroys or defaces any real or personal property of such other person; or
(3) Threatens, by word or act, described in subdivision (1) or (2) of this subsection, if there is reasonable cause to believe that an act described in subdivision (1) or (2) of this subsection will occur.
In an action for damages resulting from intimidation based on bigotry or bias, any person injured in person or property as a result of such an act may bring a civil action against the person who committed such act to recover damages for such injury. Where a plaintiff in such an action prevails, the court shall award treble damages and may award equitable relief and reasonable attorneys’ fees in its discretion.
3. Criminal Threats
Under Connecticut law, a person is guilty of threatening when: (1) by physical threat, such person intentionally places or attempts to place another person in fear of imminent serious physical injury; (2) such person threatens to commit any crime of violence with the intent to terrorize another person; or (3) such person threatens to commit such crime of violence in reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror.
Other theories may be available for victims of bullying and cyberbullying. If you have questions relating to this, or other education issues, do not hesitate to contact an experienced education law attorney in our Westport, Fairfield County office, at 203-221-3100.