Cyberbullying Laws and Penalties in Minnesota

Cyberbullying is not only harmful but can also cross the line to criminal conduct.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated December 06, 2023

While bullying has always been particularly problematic among teenagers, cyberbullying—bullying that occurs in an electronic format—can be even more harmful. With the widespread use of social media and messaging, this problem may be the most dangerous form of bullying to date. What some might not realize is that it can also be a crime.

Is Cyberbullying a Crime in Minnesota?

While Minnesota doesn't have a crime specific to cyberbullying, these acts can be punished as harassment or stalking crimes. Harassment and stalking carry penalties ranging from a year of jail time to 10 years in prison.

What Are the Penalties for Cyberharassment and Cyberstalking in Minnesota?

Below are the penalties for crimes relating to cyberbullying and cyberharassment in Minnesota.

Penalties for Cyberharassment

Minnesota law makes it a crime to harass or intimidate another through any available technology.

Harassment. A communication is considered harassment if it:

  • causes or would likely cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, or
  • causes a reasonable person to fear for their own or a family member's safety.

This law also covers acts of doxing where a person uses another's personal information, without their consent, to solicit sexual acts with others.

Penalties. A person convicted of harassment faces up to 364 days in jail and a $3,000 fine for a gross misdemeanor. Felony penalties apply when a defendant:

  • has a prior conviction for harassment or a similar crime
  • harasses another due to bias (such as race, gender, or sexual orientation)
  • unlawfully impersonates someone else, or
  • harasses a minor who's at least three years younger than the defendant.

These felonies carry a maximum 5-year prison sentence. The penalty increases to a 10-year felony for third and subsequent convictions, as well as harassment of a minor where the defendant acted with sexual or aggressive intent.

Penalties for Cyberstalking

A person who repeatedly harasses another knowing that their actions will, and do, terrorize the victim can be charged with felony stalking. The maximum penalty for stalking—including cyberstalking—is 10 years of prison time and a $20,000 fine.

(Minn. Stat. § 609.749 (2023).)

Defenses to Cyberbullying Charges in Minnesota

Common defenses to charges of harassment or stalking include claiming that free speech protections apply or establishing that a victim's reaction was unreasonable.

Free speech. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and expression, but this protection is not absolute. Speech that poses an immediate threat to others is not protected. Nonviolent and non-threatening speech or conduct is generally protected even if it's unpopular or offensive to others. The line between protected speech and unprotected speech can be a fine one and may be worth exploring as a defense if there's ambiguity.

Unreasonable reaction. Minnesota's harassment and stalking laws require proof that the victim's fearful or distressful reaction was reasonable. If a victim had a hypersensitive reaction to the conduct involved, a defendant may have a defense that the prosecution cannot meet its burden of proving all the elements of the crime. For instance, being upset over a rude and nasty comment does not rise to the level of reasonably fearing for one's safety.

Are Teenagers in Minnesota Tried in Juvenile or Criminal Court?

Teens younger than 18 generally fall under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court in Minnesota. Juvenile court judges tend to have more options to punish a juvenile offender than judges in adult court.

Juvenile delinquency court. If adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court, the judge can order individual or family counseling, treatment or programming, probation, home detention, driver's license suspension, detention, or removal from the home, among other options. For gross misdemeanor violations, the juvenile is considered a "petty offender" and won't receive a formal adjudication of delinquency. The judge can order a juvenile petty offender to undergo counseling or treatment, be subject to probation, or pay restitution but cannot order detention or removal.

Adult criminal court. A teenager aged 18 or 19 will face charges in adult court. While sentencing alternatives are also available in adult court, so is jail or prison time.

(Minn. Stat. §§ 260B.007, 260B.198, 260B.235 (2023).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you're facing an investigation or charges for cyberbullying, talk to a criminal defense attorney. For charges in juvenile court, be sure to find an attorney who practices in the area of juvenile delinquency.

Talk to a Defense attorney
We've helped 95 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you