On May 30, 2011 the State of Tennesse’s Governor Bill Haslam signed off on a new law, which amended the Tennesse Code. An Act (House Bill No. 300) to Amend Tennesse Code Annotated, Title 39, Chapter 17, Part 3, relative to the offense of harassment. House Bill No. 300 passed on May 18, 2011, approved May 30, 2011 and shall take effect on July 1, 2011.
This new Tennesse law makes it a crime to post an “image” online that might “frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress” to someone (anyone). The State already has in place, a harassment law making: phonecalls, sending emails or otherwise communicating with someone in a way that would cause “emotional distress”.
The amendment that goes into effect on July 1, 2011, means that offenders may be prosecuted even if it’s not the “intended recipient” who is distressed. Anyone who views the image, meaning anyone on the internet (including social networking sites), could claim it upset them. Prosecution and conviction of this new law, could result in almost a year in jail or up to $2,500.00 in fines.
Many are calling this vague amendment of Tennesse’s harassment law, unconstitutional.
House Bill 300 was built on this previously passed Tennesse law:
2010 Tennessee Code, Title 39 – Criminal Offenses, Chapter 17 – Offenses Against Public Health, Safety and Welfare, Part 3 – Disorderly Conduct and Riots
(a) A person commits an offense who intentionally:
(1) Threatens, by telephone, in writing or by electronic communication, including, but not limited to, text messaging, facsimile transmissions, electronic mail or Internet services, to take action known to be unlawful against any person and by this action knowingly annoys or alarms the recipient;
(2) Places one (1) or more telephone calls anonymously, or at an hour or hours known to be inconvenient to the victim, or in an offensively repetitious manner, or without a legitimate purpose of communication, and by this action knowingly annoys or alarms the recipient;
(3) Communicates by telephone to another that a relative or other person has been injured, killed or is ill when the communication is known to be false; or
(4) Communicates with another person by any method described in subdivision (a)(1), without legitimate purpose:
(a) (i) With the malicious intent to frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress; or
(ii) In a manner the defendant knows, or reasonably should know, would frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress to a similarly situated person of reasonable sensibilities; and
(b) As the result of the communication, the person is frightened, intimidated or emotionally distressed.
(b) (1) A person convicted of a criminal offense commits an offense if, while incarcerated, on pre-trial diversion, probation, community correction or parole, the person intentionally communicates in person with the victim of the person’s crime if the communication is:
(a) Anonymous or threatening or made in an offensively repetitious manner or at hours known to be inconvenient to the victim;
(b) Made for no legitimate purpose; and
(c) Made knowing that it will alarm or annoy the victim.
(2) If the victim of the person’s offense died as the result of the offense, the provisions of this subsection (b) shall apply to the deceased victim’s next-of-kin.
(c) A violation of subsection (a) is a Class A misdemeanor. A violation of subsection (b) is a Class E felony.