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Bullying in the courts: actions must affect more than day-to-day life

Harassment can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony in the state of Missouri. Harassment is a misdemeanor if there is an intent to cause emotional distress. If emotional distress occurs, the charge can be a felony. (MGN Online)

The action of bullying could leave a victim wanting justice, but how does bullying stand in court?

While the state of Missouri has a bullying law, the perpetrator is most commonly charged and convicted of harassment or stalking.

Once a victim reports a case of bullying to the Jefferson City Police Department, officers must evaluate the case before it moves on.

"We try and deem if the bullying is of criminal nature. If it's not deemed to be a crime, we'll let the administrators deal with it at a building level," Sgt. Jason Payne of JCPD said.

If deemed criminal, that charge in most cases in harassment.

"In Missouri, harassment as a crime is defined when someone commits an act against another person with the purpose of causing emotional distress against that person," executive director of the Missouri Association of Prosecutors Jason Lamb said.

Harassment can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony in the state of Missouri.

In order to prove harassment as a misdemeanor in Missouri, there must be intent to cause emotional distress. In order to prove a felony, that emotional distress must actually occur. The felony charge of harassment is new to state law following changes to the Missouri Criminal Code.

"Missouri law has been interpreted by the courts to show that emotional distress has to be something markedly greater than that distress experienced in normal day to day activity," Lamb said.

Evidence in harassment cases could include expert witnesses such as a counselor or psychiatrist.

The punishment of harassment in the first degree, a Class E Felony, punishment could be up to four years in prison. The punishment for harassment in the second degree, a Class A Misdemeanor could be up to one year in county jail.

Prosecutors said it is unlikely they will charge a juvenile with harassment stemming from a bullying instance.

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