The Age of Social Media and Its Impact on the Restraining Order
A Restraining Order is no laughing matter. When issued, the Courts take them very seriously and any violation can mean serious consequences for the offender. Generally, Restraining Orders involve orders requiring the offending party to remain a certain distance away from the protect person(s); to refrain from harassing, stalking, communicating, etc. with the protected person(s) and the like. The terms of a Restraining Order are, generally, quite clear. However, in an age where social media is predominant, and often the most utilized form of contact, the terms of a Restraining Order can seem hazy. The Court in People v. Shivers discuss this issue exactly.
In Shivers, the protected party, Ms. Perrette, obtained a restraining order against her ex-husband, Mr. Shivers, precluding him from harassing, threatening, following, stalking, molesting, or disturbing her peace and from coming within 100 yards of her. People v. Shivers (2015) 235 Cal.App.4th Supp. 8. One evening, Ms. Perrette and her fiancé were at dinner when Mr. Shivers and his wife entered the restaurant and were seated at a table next to Ms. Perrette and her fiancé. Mr. Shivers informed the host that he could not sit there. Mr. Shivers then proceeded to come close to Ms. Perrette’s face, smirking at her. He then began recording her with his cell phone and began shouting that he had a restraining order against Ms. Perrette. Ms. Perrette called 911 to report the RO violation, but Mr. Shivers had already left. The situation was understandably embarrassing for Ms. Perrette as Mr. Shivers’ display gathered the attention of many of the other diners. After this incident, Mr. Shivers posted a “tweet” on Twitter claiming that he and his wife had gone to a restaurant, seen Ms. Perrette waiting for him, and then left. He posted another tweet asking all individuals to call the police if they saw Ms. Perrette, who he referred to as his “stalker” claiming that she had made death threats towards him and stalked him. Further, to ensure that many saw the tweet, Mr. Shivers used the hashtag “NCIS” which is the name of the show on which Ms. Perrette appeared. Mr. Shivers was convicted for charges involving his violation of the RO. He appealed arguing that his tweets had not “actually incited” anyone to harass, injure or subject Ms. Perrette to any unwanted physical contact, or “actually produced” any such harassment, injury, or physical contact. However, the Appellate Court explained that the relevant statute does not require proof that the message actually incited or produced such conduct, only that it was likely to do so. Mr. Shivers’ conviction was affirmed.
The lesson in Shivers is an important one. Often times, parties to a pending legal matter forget the serious implications of their actions on social media. How parties portray themselves on their social media pages can, and frequently are, used by the other party in attempt to present that party in a negative light. This is especially true in family law cases, especially when children are involved and/or support is sought. One parent may use photographs posted on Facebook of the other parent going out with friends to show that he/she is neglectful. Pictures or posts of vacations may be used by the payee spouse/parent in a support case to show that the other party has the funds to pay support but is spending that money on lavish trips instead. What you post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. can impact the outcome of your case. Mr. Shiver’s actions in the case discussed above is a prime example of this sort of impact.
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