Pa. Superior Court affirms harassment conviction of teen over Facebook post

By Jon Campisi | Aug 7, 2013

A state appellate court panel has affirmed a ruling by a trial judge who

decided criminal charges were appropriate in the case of a teenager who posted on a social media website lewd comments about another girl.

Three judges with the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed on Aug. 2 an earlier judgment by the Lebanon County Common Pleas Court in a case involving Lindsey Marie Cox, an 18-year-old who posted a comment to her Facebook page that said the other teen had the sexually transmitted disease genital herpes.

“Ew, that’s gross. She should stop spreading her legs like her mother,” was the rest of the online statement, according to court records.

Cox had posted the comment the day before the then-15-year-old victim was set to begin 10th grade.

The comment received “likes” from multiple people visiting Cox’s Facebook page.

The victim and her mother reported the incident to police, which led to criminal harassment charges being filed against Cox, to which she was subsequently found guilty following a jury trial, the record shows.

Cox, who was given six months of probation, appealed the sentence, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction.

The appellate panel, however, wrote that Cox presented no argument as to how the evidence was insufficient to establish the elements of the crime of harassment, which is defined as an act that is designed to “harass, annoy or alarm another … person,” and is communicated through “lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings or caricatures.”

Cox had argued that her actions were wrong, but not criminal, and blamed the Facebook postings on turmoil going on in her personal life that she “unwisely” took out on the victim.

The Superior Court panel didn’t buy it.

“Contrary to Cox’s view and in light of the totality of the evidence, her misuse of the internet and social media was criminal,” the panel wrote.

The judges determined that the evidence was sufficient to support a finding that Cox communicated lewd sentiments about the victim to others, “and an inference that in doing so it was her intent to harass, annoy or alarm Victim,” according to the appellate memorandum.

Cox’s conduct, the panel wrote, was the type the General Assembly sought to criminalize under the harassment statute.

Cox’s second issue on appeal was that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence, arguing that jurors gave too much weight to the victim’s “emotional” testimony, and in doing so disregarded the language and intent of the law.

“We cannot agree,” the panel wrote. “To the extent that Cox is arguing that the jury erred in crediting Victim’s testimony, such an argument affords her no relief. In determining a weight of the evidence claim, it is not the function of an appellate court to re-assess the credibility of the witnesses’ testimony.”

The panel wrote that while Cox has expressed remorse for the “ill-conceived but intentionally harmful posting on Facebook, the jury assessed the evidence and found the publication on the internet was criminal harassment. There was no error in the trial court’s refusal to reverse the verdict.”

The decision was written by Superior Court Judge Christine L. Donohue.

Judges John T. Bender and Eugene B. Strassburger, III also participated in the decision.

Elizabeth Judd, a lawyer from the Lebanon County Public Defender’s Office, was quoted in local media saying her team planned to appeal the decision.

The criminal charge was “overboard in this particular case,” Judd told the Legal Intelligencer, because the Facebook posting was only publicly viewable for about an hour.

Judd told the Intelligencer that she doesn’t believe Cox’s conduct rose to the level of criminal harassment.

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