Facebook use gets Henrico woman arrested

Jessica Wade
Jessica Wade

By Andy Jenks - bio | email

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - A Henrico woman is in trouble with the law for her alleged use of Facebook.

Imagine getting angry. You're at the computer. Then, you give somebody a real piece of your mind on Facebook. In Henrico, police say that got a woman arrested. The question is: Will the charge hold up in court?

It's not her profile picture, it's a mug shot. And Jessica Wade, 26, of Henrico isn't smiling.

Police arrested Wade Monday on the rare charge of "harassment by computer." Authorities say Wade used a private Facebook message to harass another woman, believed to be seeing her boyfriend.

In the criminal complaint, the victim says, beginning in April, Wade sent "threatening e-mails," calling her "old," and asking her over to Wade's home to "settle this."

When reached by phone, Wade had no comment on the accusations. She did, however, describe what she wrote on Facebook.

"I tried to keep my name out of her mouth, before she gets crushed," Wade said, which is where the legal questions begin.

"Well, one thing is clear. It's not against the law to go on your computer and to be rude," said NBC12 legal analyst Steve Benjamin.

The law defines harassment by computer as using "obscene," "vulgar," or "lewd" language intending to "coerce" or "intimidate" another person.

"As it's currently interpreted, it would have to be a threat, and of an obscene nature," Benjamin said.

Wade told NBC12 an obscene threat was never made. However, brief statements and court documents rarely tell the entire story. It's up to a judge to hear both sides and determine what is and is not okay to do online.

"Although it's not against the law to be rude and offensive and to use really bad language on the computer,  people need to understand that they could still be charged with it and have to go through the difficult challenge of the court system in defending conduct that is obnoxious, but not illegal," Benjamin said.

The victim was not reachable for comment. In her sworn statement, she told police the threats have gone on for almost five months. Wade is due to appear in court on the misdemeanor charge next month.

Harassment by computer is punishment by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine, if convicted.

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