Could Bitcoin Help Kids Avoid Harassment Prosecution?

Bitcoin Books for Kids | ICOExaminer

No, this is not clickbait. This is my attempt to show how antiquated our legal system is and also how unprepared the American legal system is for the currency of the future. In the following paragraph I’m going to provide a set of facts on which you will be the judge and the jury hearing the case. At the conclusion I will summarize the problem with the law that technological innovation poses on our legal system. Tl;Dr… the law is slow and sometimes has unintended consequences of being outdated.

Facts:

On January 31, Jim Stewart (age 16, Defendant) was standing outside of the East Brennan Savings Bank. Officer Smith of the Brennan Police Department approached Jim and Ms. Nancy Robbins (victim) in an argument outside of the Bank. Nancy told the officer that she banks at East Brennan Savings Bank and visits that location every Tuesday and Thursday to use the ATM. This was the her fourth interaction with Jim at this location. Prior interactions were on January 22, 24, and 29. Nancy explained that Jim would stand right outside the bank on the sidewalk asking people for money. Jim claimed to be collecting money for his basketball team at the Community Center. Nancy stated that Jim would hold the bank door open as she left the ATM vestibule. As she walked out, Jim would state something like, “I know you have the dollars, now help some basket ballers.” She had ignored him in the past, but when she explicitly refused for the first time on January 22, he yelled sarcastically to her as she walked away, “Thanks a lot, Miss Tight Wallet. I see you trying not to look at me, and I won’t forget!” When she approached the Bank on January 24, he again harassed her by standing at the door with his hands out mockingly as she walked in and then yelling “Scrooge!” as she walked away. On January 29, he began a long chant of “Scroooooge” as she approached, continuing while she was at the ATM and until she was out of earshot. Jim was standing about 7 or 8 feet from the ATM machine itself on the Sidewalk.

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Question Presented:

On the last encounter, Officer Smith charged Jim with one count of harassment, but Jim was not arrested. Below are the arguments presented to you, the Judge, when Jim is finally tried for his alleged crimes.

The Law:

The harassment statute was enacted “to make criminal, private annoyances that are not entitled to constitutional protection.” The statute sets out three subsections;

(1) defendant made or caused to be made a communication;

(2) defendant’s purpose in making or causing the communication to be made was to harass another person, and

(3) the communication was in one of the specified manners or any other manner similarly likely to cause annoyance or alarm to its intended recipient.

Prosecution:

Namely, the purpose and motivation behind the communication is what is being criminalized. A communication as defined in the statute, is any form of communication, made by any means, including, but not limited to any verbal or written communication. Here, we must focus on the existence of prongs two and three: whether such communication had a purpose to harass, and whether it was likely to cause annoyance or alarm.  The State has defined purpose as “with respect to the nature of [the] conduct or a result thereof if it is his conscious object to engage in conduct of that nature or to cause such a result.”  A defendant acts with the purpose to harass when they have no other legitimate purpose.To annoy means to disturb, irritate, or bother. Alarm is defined as actions productive of anxiety or distress to the victim. 

A person acts purposely with respect to the nature of his conduct or a result thereof if it is his conscious object to engage in conduct of that nature or to cause such a result. A lack of a legitimate purpose can often be determined inferentially through evidence presented, common sense, and experience. A defendant’s conduct satisfies the elements of the harassment statute when they communicate with the purpose to harass and when that communication is done in any manner to cause annoyance or alarm to another.

In conclusion, the Defendant’s communication with the victim served no other legitimate purpose than to harass her while repeatedly lingering outside of a bank ATM. The Defendant solicited money in his first communication with the victim, which was not made with the purpose to harass, however once the victim declined to donate, the original legitimate purpose to communicate ceased to exist.

Terms Criminal prosecution and Defense are semantically related or have  opposite meaning

Defense:

The right to solicit is an inherent right afforded by the First Amendment. It seems to be the position of the State to eliminate or restrict that constitutionally afforded right by other than what is absolutely necessary to achieve the safety and privacy of the citizenry. The general principles of First Amendment jurisprudence categorize statutes that place a restriction on speech and expression into two categories; content-based or content neutral. Content-based laws, or those that target speech based on the communicative content, are presumptively unconstitutional and may only be upheld if the state can provide a convincing reason to use the doctrine of secondary effects.

Here, is the case of a child who was soliciting money for his community basketball league and got carried away after being turned down for a dollar or two. I highly doubt that this court would be interested in setting a precedent to punish community members for reasonably soliciting donations to achieve a community event. The prosecution has gone over and beyond what is reasonably necessary to simply ask Mr. Stewart to not seek donations in the manner in which the officer found him doing so. The prosecution has hardly shown a prima facia case to continue this trial, and there are simply no facts that can prove beyond a preponderance of the evidence that Mr. Stewart acted in a harassing manner. In fact, your honor, the defense should move to seek a fine for prosecutorial misconduct in charging Mr. Stewart to begin with. In closing, the defense seeks to have the court agree with our motion to dismiss the charges and apologize to Mr. Stewart for the State’s actions in seeking criminal charges against a minor.

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So, you be the Judge!

Does the State have a case, that is, does the evidence meet all 3 conjunctive elements of the criminal statute? Is there reasonable justification for Jim to be charged and at least tried on the matter to see is he is guilty?

Beyond that, what if the facts were different? What if Jim was airdropping his Venmo page to people on the train to solicit donations? Still illegal? What if Jim was passing out flyers with the information? What if he was using crypto currency and using his phone to communicate only?

My point here (besides there being no obvious answer) is to point out that our laws are extremely pointed and narrow, and for good reason! They target exactly the type of behavior society has deemed criminal. The problem is that the speed at which technological innovation occurs leaves our antiquated American laws in the dust. Lawyers and lawmakers must find a way at which thoughtful and helpful legislation can occur so we spend less time punishing (a kid for soliciting donations) or insert any sort of activity.

6 comments

  1. In the case I believe this to be harassment based upon the words “likely to cause annoyance or alarm” in the third clause of the law. Also, I think the digital examples of solicitation also fall under this clause as well. Although, I don’t think harassment would be easy to prove if all the prosecution has is a “he said, she said” collection of evidence. Overall, I understand the point you are getting at Karl. One could make the argument that regulatory agencies have been dragging their feet to provide legal guidance for the blockchain industry to provide time for policy makers and institutional investors to build their crypto portfolios before prices continue a parabolic incline. However, I would argue that instead of regulators preempting innovation with legal action, they ought to be more reactionary and pass legislation that is open to wide interpretation. Let the players play.

  2. Awesome post, as always, Karl! You’re totally right that our antiquated laws make for a difficult application in the fast-paced age of digital transformation. Unfortunately, this is not new news — back in 1946, Robert Penn Warren wrote, “(The law) is like a single-bed blanket on a double bed and three folks in the bed and a cold night. There ain’t ever enough blanket to cover the case, no matter how much pulling and hauling, and somebody is always going to nigh catch pneumonia. Hell, the law is like the pants you bought last year for a growing boy, but it is always this year and the seams are popped and the shankbone’s to the breeze. The law is always too short and too tight for growing humankind.” In class, we similarly discussed the application of anti-trust laws to Amazon. The blanket just isn’t big enough!

    To be able to answer your question about whether the evidence meets all 3 conjunctive elements of the criminal statute, we’d, of course, need to look at caselaw or the statutory code itself to find out what actually constitutes “harassment” and the like. Assuming, for sake of discussion, that each of the words has a plain meaning, I think there is reasonable justification for Jim to be charged/at least tried on the matter. Whether the law stretches enough to answer your questions regarding airdropping, etc., again, we’d need to look at caselaw to find out what constitutes harassment, etc. But, again, this emphasizes the point you made of the law being antiquated: new law is based on old law and cases are largely formed on the basis of old law (in fact, lawyers are subject to discipline if they bring cases that aren’t based in law (or at least fail to make a colorable argument for the necessary change in law)).

  3. I agree with @collarcs here! I think in a lot of areas of digital transformation that our laws are lacking and are dated. Maybe @hudsoncitycentre and @lexgetdigital can team together to write up some new legislation after having taken this class that provides a more educated viewpoint on how digital transformation is affecting the lives of everyone in our society today! I don’t think the boy should have been harassing anyone for a few bucks and I’m not sure how blockchain can solve that…nonetheless, interesting vantage point of digital transformations in our legal system?

  4. We see this happen on campus often — students soliciting for a good cause like our arrupe trips or international immersion trips. Unfortunately, the university’s solicitation policy is pretty clear so they are not able to ask for physical cash for their bake sale, but we have no way of monitoring personal club use of private venmo accounts and no university resources to provide outside of a red-tape-filled process of the e-market (what is used to purchase the CSOM Patagonia jackets). So I relate to the legal system (unfortunately).

    Given student’s continued use of these tools, you would think something would have popped up on the university’s radar, but given I am not sure how often our leadership uses Venmo or CashApp, it may not be on their minds.

  5. Under the definition you provided I would say this counts as harassment specifically based on part 3. Now is it enough to the throw the book at the kid? That’s probably a no from me. But hey that’s why I’m not lawyer :)

  6. You pose an interesting question here, thanks for the post. What it really made me think of was the governance of the internet and how outdated those laws & regulations are. Its nearly impossible to keep up with the pace of technology but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t update anything since 1996!

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