The line between annoyance and harassment is a thin one indeed, only now, one of those things is perfectly acceptable behavior in the eyes of the law. Yesterday the Court of Appeals in Albany nixed a statute that criminalized communicating with someone "in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm."
The impetus behind the decision was indeed one very irritating dude, the son of a Dead Sea Scrolls academic who was convinced his father's competitors were filching his ideas. In retaliation, he opened dozens of email accounts using his victim's names and wrote confessions under their identities. Weird? Yes. Annoying? Infinitely! But illegal? Only a little. The antagonist, 54-year-old Raphael Golb, was originally convicted of 30 counts of aggravated harassment, criminal impersonation, identity theft, forgery and unauthorized use of a computer. (In one instance, Golb even impersonated an NYU professor, sending emails to students and colleagues admitting to having plagiarized work.)
But as a result of Tuesday's ruling, 10 of those charges were dismissed, leaving Golb with only misdemeanor convictions on account of the identify theft and criminal impersonation—a gentle slap on the wrist compared to the jail time and several years probation he was previously facing.
As far as speech, judges unanimously ruled that words were protected, unless "by their utterance alone, inflict injury or tend naturally to evoke immediate violence."
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance bemoaned the ruling, saying that it opened the door for various types of second degree harassment through phone calls and emails.
"The aggravated harassment statute is one of the most important tools we have to protect victims of, among other serious crimes, stalking and domestic violence," he said in a statement. "Last year, there were approximately 1,000 people charged in Manhattan with this crime; many of these cases are pending. We will now work with advocates, our partners in law enforcement and state lawmakers to address the potential implications of this ruling."