A big Deal: Sending harassing text messages can lead to prison

HOUGHTON – It may seem to some people sending nasty text messages is no big deal, but according to Michigan law, it is a crime, which can be either a misdemeanor or a felony.

According to the Michigan Legislative Website, Section 750.411h of Michigan Penal Code Act 328 of 1931 includes harassment by stalking, unwanted telephone calls, and harassment by e-mail or texting. Punishment for the misdemeanor level of the offense is up to one year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. If the person receiving the stalking or harassment is younger than 18 years old and the alleged harasser is at least 5 years older than the victim, the crime becomes a felony and is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a fine up to $10,000.

There are laws against various forms of harassment, including texting, in all 50 states. In some cases, sending a harassing text or other electronic communication from one state to another may constitute a federal crime.

Houghton County Undersheriff Roy Britz said if the sheriff’s office receives a complaint of harassing texts, deputies try to contact the person accused of sending the texts to let that person know what they are doing is a crime, and hopefully get the person to stop.

So far, Britz said the sheriff’s office hasn’t taken any texting harassment cases to court, but they may in the future.

“It depends on what the complainant wants,” he said.

However, Britz said most people making the complaints just want the harassment to stop.

In recent years, the number of complaints about texting harassment has increased, Britz said.

“It just keeps escalating,” he said.

Sgt. Bill Luokkanen of the Keweenaw County Sheriff’s Office said the agency gets many complaints about text harassment.

“It’s fairly regular,” he said.

Luokkanen said most text harassment cases the KCSO deals with are part of a larger system of harassment, which may include stalking, telephone calls and e-mails.

“We see it a lot when there’s a personal protection order (against the alleged harasser),” he said. “No contact means no contact.”

Text harassment seems to be a growing problem with young people, Luokkanen said, but it also happens with adults, such as neighbors involved in some sort of dispute.

Dave Outinen, chief of the Village of Calumet Police Department, said the department gets many complaints regarding text harassment as well as harassment on various social media sites.

“We receive a fair amount of complaints,” he said.

Outinen said the text harassment complaints the department receives come in “spurts.”

“It comes and goes,” he said.

Although many text harassment complaints involve teens, Outinen said it’s not limited to younger people.

“There’s just as many adults as teens,” he said.

He and his officers usually just tell the alleged harasser to stop that activity, Outinen said. He hasn’t taken any text harassment cases to prosecution, yet, but he’s come close a few times.

“There’s a few that pushed it to the limit,” he said. “Some people don’t learn.”