In a recent article, Bari Z. Weinberger, Esq., managing partner at Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group and family law expert explored the possibility of the Erin Andrews stalking case happening in New Jersey.
The now infamous case involved Erin Andrews, American sportscaster and television personality. She checked into a Marriott hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, unaware that her stalker, Michael Barrett, was in the next room, ready to secretly film her through a crude peephole in her hotel room door. That footage was later uploaded to the internet where it was viewed nearly 17 million times. Andrews was nude in some of the footage. Over seven years later, a jury awarded Andrews a $55 million verdict against Barrett and the Nashville Marriott.
The high verdict, legal analysts agree, was intended to send a message about cyber privacy, an area of the law new to this electronics age. As Andrews stated on the stand, “It’s on the internet now…It’s going to be on the internet until I die.” The role of the internet in perpetuating the privacy violation she experienced is at the root of her harrowing situation.
What if Michael Barrett had lived in New Jersey? As Ms. Weinberger indicates, “Protection of privacy in private spaces has a long, rich tradition in New Jersey. Our common law rights to privacy are protected by stringent civil statutes that prohibit ‘intrusion upon seclusion’ in all private spaces, including private hotel rooms.” Weinberger continued, “Additionally, we have some of the strictest criminal laws on the books for harassment, stalking and trespass of any state in the nation.”
In 2014, according to Weinberger, the passage of A-3785, New Jersey’s first cyber-harassment law, strengthened these protections. The law makes it a crime to “…send, post, comment, request, suggest or propose any lewd, indecent or obscene material to or about a person through electronic communications.” If he had been charged in New Jersey, “Barrett’s actions would have most likely resulted in several criminal stalking-related charges. It’s also reasonable to conclude that he would face added charges on the grounds of cyber harassment, with charges carrying the possibility of extra prison time and/or a hefty monetary fine,” Weinberger concluded.
Further, civil lawsuits for invasion of privacy carry with it various potential for compensatory and punitive damages. And, if applicable, Weinberger states, “additional claims can be made under the New Jersey Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act, a privacy law that prohibits the interception, recording or disclosure of private conversations made through an electronic device, including phone calls, radio transmissions, e-mails, texts and most other types of electronic transmissions where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Weinberger points out that a large number of privacy violations in New Jersey involve spouses spying on each other, often through cyber spying methods. “When spouses become suspicious of infidelity, or as a pattern of controlling behavior in abusive relationships, individuals will often overstep privacy laws in their attempt to pry into their spouse’s private life,” she said.
Citing statistics from npr.org, Weinberger points out that as many as 85% of domestic violence shelters in the U.S. have victims requesting help to disable GPS tracking devices on smartphones and to secure social media accounts such as Facebook. Indeed, it was social media that led to Barrett’s arrest: he was arrested only after Andrews became aware of the video of her posted online. He was charged with interstate stalking and sentenced to five years in prison by a federal court. Today, he is out of prison and living in his father’s basement in Oregon.
According to Weinberger, “The law continues to evolve, but for Andrews, the law didn’t change fast enough, or soon enough.”
If you are in a stalking relationship or any other type of domestic violence situation, we can help get the protection you need. Please contact us to set up your confidential consultation with one of our experienced domestic violence attorneys.