A former UT law student who was sentenced to almost four years in prison after he pleaded guilty to cyberstalking a Georgetown alumni admissions interviewer following his rejection from the T14 law school has lost his bid to overturn his conviction.
In 2017, Ho Ka Terence Yung, who was then a third-year student at UT, was arrested for an 18-month campaign of cyberstalking that a federal judge described as “a disturbing mix of violence and sexual degradation that actually resulted in complete strangers approaching the victim’s home.” In 2018, he pleaded guilty to one count of cyberstalking, and he was sentenced in 2019. As a refresher, here’s a disturbing excerpt from the Justice Department’s announcement of Yung’s plea that describes some of his cyberstalking efforts:
Yung repeatedly published violent and sadistic statements about Victim 1 on the Internet – including descriptions of rape, lynching, sexual molestation, and graphic violence. As just one example, the defendant posted a false story about Victim 1 on a public website, which involved the abduction of an eight-year old girl from an elementary school. In this story, the defendant described kidnapping the little girl at gunpoint, cutting off her clothes with a knife, and raping her.
Yung also repeatedly posted personal ads on Craigslist and other websites with the intent that individuals interested in violent and sadistic sexual activity would go to Victim 1’s residence in the middle of the night. For example, on October 29, 2015, the defendant posed as a “cute blonde hottie” and posted an ad on Craigslist stating, among other things:
i need a big strong man to dominate me tonight . . . i like it when a man puts his hand around my throat and threatens me with a knife . . . then you pull my hair and take out your gun and threaten me . . . i’m a bad girl, and I need to be punished by a big strong man. send me a picture with you holding your gun. all others will be ignored.
Notably, the above ad was published a day after local police stopped a man outside of Victim 1’s residence in the middle of the night, who was looking for Victim 1’s wife. He was responding to a similar Craigslist ad and the defendant directed him to Victim 1’s residence.
We now turn to Yung’s attempt to get his sentence thrown out. In his appeal, Yung argued that a 2013 revision to the cyberstalking statute — one that allows charges against not just those who intend to harass someone online, but also those who intend to intimidate — rendered the amended statute invalid because it infringed on free speech rights. The Third Circuit rejected his interpretation, noting that several circuits interpret a more narrow reading of the statute, including their own. From the National Law Journal:
“To ‘intimidate,’ we hold, a defendant must put the victim in fear of death or bodily injury. … It also limits ‘intent to intimidate’ to what it ‘especially’ means, a form of true threats or speech integral to a crime,” [Judge Stephanos] Bibas wrote. “Those narrow readings ensure that protected speech largely escapes the law’s net. Thus, we can avoid the ‘strong medicine’ of invalidating the statute as facially overbroad.”
“Cyberstalking is a serious crime that calls for serious punishment. But courts must be vigilant to keep crimes and punishments within the bounds of law,” Bibas said. “Cyberstalking laws must be read narrowly to avoid punishing protected speech.”
Even though the court upheld his prison sentence, Yung did receive a partial win. As part of his original sentence, he was ordered to pay restitution to his victim of almost $70,000 and $130,000 to Georgetown University, as the school added more security measures on campus because the victim’s son was a student there. The NLJ has more information:
[T]he Third Circuit on Monday vacated the order requiring payment to the university since Yung never targeted the campus and didn’t damage any of the school’s property.
“The government claims that the property that Yung damaged ‘was the safety and security of Georgetown’s campus,’” Bibas wrote. “Yet Yung’s threats never made Georgetown’s campus unusable for students and faculty, or its security systems unusable for run-of-the-mill disturbances. Nor does Georgetown say that its security systems were unhelpful in dealing with Yung.”
Yung, who would have graduated from law school in 2017 — the same year that Georgetown slipped out of the T14, will remain behind bars.
Ex-Law Student’s Conviction Upheld in Georgetown Cyberstalking Case [National Law Journal]
Earlier: Jail Time Ahead For Student Who Embarked On Campaign Of Cyberstalking Following Law School Rejection
Ex-Law Student Pleads Guilty To Terrorizing Admissions Interviewer After Rejection From T14 Law School
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.