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North Carolina Appellate Court Affirms Teenager’s Cyberbullying Conviction


The Court of Appeals of North Carolina was petitioned to determine whether a high school student had been properly convicted of cyber-bullying a classmate in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-458.1. The court upheld the conviction, finding that the defendant failed to show that the cyber-bullying statute was invalid under USCS Const. Amend. 1 as an overbroad criminalization of protected speech. In addition, the court found that defendant lacked standing to challenge the cyber-bullying statute for failure to preserve the argument. Moreover the court found the trial court properly allowed a police detective's lay opinion testimony regarding his investigative process involving screen shots of defendant’s social media postings pursuant to  N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 701

The case arose when Dillion Price’s classmates began posting negative comments and pictures of him on his Facebook page. Robert Bishop, one of Dillion's classmates, posted several comments, including posts calling him homophobic and homosexual. Bishop further posted that he never got the chance to slap Dillion down before Christmas break, and he also made other comments rife with vulgarity. Dillion’s mother discovered the derogatory comments, which had upset Dillion, and contacted local law enforcement. Police Detective David Sykes then used undercover Facebook profiles to search for posts and comments in which Dillion was mentioned. Whenever he found anything that appeared to him to have been cyber-bullying, he took a screen shot of it. Upon completing the investigation, Detective Sykes arrested Bishop. 

After Bishop was convicted of cyberbullying in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-458.1, he pursued an ultimately unsuccessful appeal to the Court of Appeals of North Carolina. In affirming the conviction, the appellate court found that the North Carolina cyber-bullying statute, which prohibited the use of a computer or computer network to post or encourage others to post on the Internet private, personal, or sexual information pertaining to a minor with the intent to intimidate or torment the minor, was not an unconstitutionally overbroad content-based criminalization of protected speech under the First Amendment. The statute only prohibited disclosure of private, personal, or sexual information pertaining to a minor on the Internet with the specific intent to intimidate or torment the minor. The statute served purposes and regulated conduct entirely unrelated to speech. Any incidental restriction on speech in the North Carolina statute was no greater than necessary. 

Furthermore, the appellate court found no abuse of discretion by the trial court in permitting Detective Sykes to testify concerning the screen shots. Although he testified that he took the screen shots of anything that appeared to him to have been evidence of cyber-bullying, the testimony was admissible because it was not proffered as an opinion of Bishop’s guilt. Finally, Bishop’s posted comments about Christianity, which were read by Dtective Sykes and published to the jury, were admissible because they were relevant to show his intent to intimidate or torment Dillion and to show the chain of events leading up to Dillion's mother contacting law enforcement. subscribers can access the opinion at State v. Bishop, 2015 N.C. App. LEXIS 522 (N.C. Ct. App. June 16, 2015). Lexis Advance subscribers can access it here: State v. Bishop, 2015 N.C. App. LEXIS 522 (N.C. Ct. App. June 16, 2015). 

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