Text messages sent with ill will can be a crime

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The next time you get upset with someone and consider sending a telephone text message, you might want to think again.

If it comes across as a threat, or even if you text an annoying message repeatedly, the police could come knocking on your door.

"It's actually easier to prosecute if someone does a text message (threat instead of a phone call)," said Lt. Troy Elwell, of the Aiken County Sheriff's Office. "If you've got the text there, you've got the evidence."

And the punishment could be just as stiff as if you verbally threatened them.

"Even though sometimes it's easier to send that (a text message) ... it could still get you the same punishment," he said.

Lately, police say they've seen more reports from people saying they've been threatened or harassed in a text message.

In a case reported in Hephzibah last week, a woman told police that another woman had called her several times after being told not to and that she also sent a text message stating, "I'm gonna kill you."

On Dec. 7, a North Augusta woman told authorities that she had received four text messages from a family member by marriage and that one was threatening. In that case, police advised the suspect not to call or text the woman again.

And on Nov. 30, a report was filed with North Augusta Department of Public Safety in which someone reported receiving repeated vulgar text messages and a picture via cell phone of an unknown man's genitals.

In Columbia County, sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said about one-third of the harassment reports are text-message-related. He said about half involve a threat.

"We have some that are not threatening but are annoying and harassing," Capt. Morris said, adding that such text messages can be a crime even if the person hasn't asked the sender to quit. "It's not like criminal trespass where you have to warn them first."

Richmond County sheriff's Maj. Ken Autry said his county hasn't had many text message harassment reports in the past, "But we're starting to see some now." He said one recent case involved a person sending a text from Canada, which proves more difficult to prosecute because there is a greater burden of proof to make it a federal case.

In Georgia, Capt. Morris said, improper text messages fall under the harassing telephone calls statute. A conviction would be a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to 12 months' confinement, up to a $1,000 fine, or both, he said.

In South Carolina, Lt. Elwell said, such cases are considered unlawful use of a telephone, which is a misdemeanor and results in a fine not less than $100 and not more than $500 and no more than 30 days' imprisonment. Lt. Elwell said the only catch to prosecuting text-message cases is to prove who was using the phone at the time, but he said that usually isn't difficult.

Capt. Morris said many times people don't realize how easy a text message can be tracked.

"They may be under the misunderstanding that these calls cannot be traced when in fact they can," he said, adding that the sheriff's office often issues subpoenas to cell phone providers to retrieve text messages. "And within a few days, we receive those records."

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 823-3338 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (18) Add comment
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FallingLeaves
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FallingLeaves 12/22/08 - 02:22 am
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Good to know. Thanks.

Good to know. Thanks.

Just My Opinion
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Just My Opinion 12/22/08 - 05:37 am
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Parents, be on the lookout

Parents, be on the lookout for this sort of thing, and worse, on your kid's cellphones. Saw a report on TV the other day about something they're calling "Sext Messages", where the kids are sending nude pictures of themselves to their girlfriend or boyfriend. After receiving them, that person then forwards them to other people, thinking that it'd be funny or embarassing. Not a good thing that's happening. Technology can sometimes be turned around to be used badly, instead of for the good.

Brad Owens
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Brad Owens 12/22/08 - 05:46 am
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Good to know that the cops

Good to know that the cops are spending time on such a terrible crime that is destroying our society...text message harassment

wsm141
115
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wsm141 12/22/08 - 07:14 am
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You can't blame law

You can't blame law enforcement for there responding to this text message harrasment. After all who put these laws in effect? The People!!! Lawmakers and Lawyers!! Yes its petty just like jay walking, the right to sue people because you don't like the color of their car! People are stupid. Stupid is as Stupid does. I don't like your post so I'm gona call the cops. vise versa. Granted in some cases legitimate threats and or harrassment are involved. If LEO's didnt pursue them and it escalated then the people would cry injustice and rightfully so. Yes it's petty. But unfortunately that's the way people are. By the way!!! I wonder when the people downtown are gona put a statue up of Justin Elmore, after all with exception of some music records and movie rolls he's not any worse than the one they already have.

usnvet
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usnvet 12/22/08 - 08:46 am
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That's right make everything

That's right make everything a crime and everyone a criminal.

jackfruitpaper833
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jackfruitpaper833 12/22/08 - 09:36 am
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Well if I get one (which I

Well if I get one (which I doubt) I will most def inform the Popo, even with an email.

gamc30909
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gamc30909 12/22/08 - 10:40 am
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They need to ban Phone that

They need to ban Phone that can text anyway. Lets pray it happens. It is too many fools on the road that are texting and not paying attention to their driving, just like putting on you war face, reading. I will at least get rid of one more thing that causes people to do stupid things, or should I say it will prevent stupid people from doing one more thing while driving.

gamc30909
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gamc30909 12/22/08 - 10:42 am
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usnvet if you are truly a Vet

usnvet if you are truly a Vet use the brain that God hopefully gave you. It is no different than me threating you in person except you have no proof, but with a text message you have written proof. Case Closed.

clyde1
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clyde1 12/22/08 - 11:33 am
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I know a lot of you are

I know a lot of you are making light of this situation, but I have been a victim of it. I have a cell phone and text my kids because it is easier to be in touch with them with little messages when they are gone than through phone calls. I have that right. However, it is disturbing to all of a sudden be threatened by somebody who I don't even know. Until you have had it happen to you, don't judge the situation in a negative way.

whataboutthekids
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whataboutthekids 12/22/08 - 11:42 am
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qamc30909-I think this is how

qamc30909-I think this is how you spell THREATENING.Merry Christmas.

shamrock
327
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shamrock 12/22/08 - 02:14 pm
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The cops are NOT spending

The cops are NOT spending time (on their own) chasing these complaints. They are responding, in accordance with their job duties, to complaints from citizens. You'd be the first to whine if they didn't! Also, parents need to watch out with the Sext Messages. If their kids are sending nude photos, or receive them, when it involves a minor can land the kid in court with a criminal conviction (possibly jail time) as a pedophile ... ruined for life! This includes when the sender uses their own body for the photo if they are a minor.

mar_1081
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mar_1081 12/22/08 - 02:52 pm
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Wow! Augusta Chronicle is

Wow! Augusta Chronicle is stretching for stories if they are publishing this stuff!

mooseye
264
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mooseye 12/23/08 - 12:15 am
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Its just another way for

Its just another way for humans to get in each others space. Why does anyone need to threaten anyone else anyway?

devojoe
0
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devojoe 12/23/08 - 09:49 am
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usnvet your are the biggest

usnvet your are the biggest whiner, everyday you complain about doing what is right. It's obvious your not in charge of anything just a disgruntled socialite. You need to go to church and let your past go. Oh and by the way, you must of stole the medals you say you earned in the military because by your attitude I don't see how you earned a single one.

Rolling Eyes
245
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Rolling Eyes 12/27/08 - 10:02 pm
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This will sure make you think

This will sure make you think twice before allowing anybody barrow your cell phone. What if you loan your phone and that person abused the privilege and sent out a threatening or vulgar text? The police would be knocking on your door looking for you!

corgimom
26188
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corgimom 12/30/09 - 01:07 pm
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All of our parents raised us

All of our parents raised us without cell phones and we all managed just fine. I agree with John Rosemond, wait until your child is old enough to buy the phone and the plan themselves.

stillamazed
1488
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stillamazed 12/30/09 - 01:11 pm
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My daughter for caught up in

My daughter for caught up in that, she had a girl who was calling our house making threats, always causing trouble and I had told my daughter to ignore the ignorant little witch but my daughter for tired of it and finally sent the girl a text and told her that if she called her house or cell phone again that she was going to kick her a_ _. Well what does the girl do, after all the crap she had done with the calls and the verbal threats, she goes to the sherrif and shows them the txt and even though in the txt my daughter tells her not to call anymore it didn't matter. the sheriff gave my daughter a warning.

goodgirl
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goodgirl 02/28/12 - 12:16 am
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I sent my sons ex roommate 2

I sent my sons ex roommate 2 text to get my tables back and a week later I recvd a civil notice from court for harrassing ph calls. I did nothing wrong except ask her for my antique tables back. Then she file a vilolence petition on me. I haven't even talked with the girl. This is so alarming to me. I am very passive and kind. I was trying to get back what was mine b/c he had moved out. I go to court in two weeks and I am so upset. I never even got a ticket before. Any advice out there? Help plz.

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