Florida Stalking Laws, Definitions, Penalties, and Defenses
Under Florida Statutes Section 784.048, “a person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of stalking.” Under this statutory section, the term “harass” means “to engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes substantial emotional distress to that person and serves no legitimate purpose.” Furthermore, “cyberstalk” means “to engage in a course of conduct to communicate, or to cause to be communicated, words, images, or language by or through the use of electronic mail or electronic communication, directed at a specific person; or to access, or attempt to access, the online accounts or Internet-connected home electronic systems of another person without that person’s permission.”
Examples of Stalking in Florida
Contrary to what many people believe, the act of stalking does not always occur when a person is hiding behind the bushes on another individual’s property. In fact, stalking charges are often raised among estranged spouses and partners, and many times, are false or exaggerated.
In general, the act of stalking occurs when a person repeatedly calls another individual at their home or place of employment, continuously texts or emails the victim, vandalizes the victim’s personal property, or sends the victim unwanted gifts or written notes.
Moreover, Florida law also protects individuals from cyberstalking, which refers to the use of electronic forms of communication that are directed toward a specific individual. Specifically, cyberstalking occurs when a person emails, texts, or uses social media to repeatedly communicate with his or her victim. Said communication must not serve a legitimate purpose and must also cause the victim to suffer from emotional distress.
The Penalties for Stalking in Florida
Stalking constitutes a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida, which carries with it a potential prison term of up to one year, one year of probation, and a $1,000 monetary fine. The offender will also be subject to a ten-year injunction, also known as a restraining order. A charge of stalking can also be included with other charges such as breaking and entering and trespassing, if applicable.
Aggravated Stalking in Florida
A more serious crime of stalking is known as aggravated stalking. There are four types of aggravated stalking in Florida, which include the following:
Credible Threat Aggravated Stalking
To be convicted of aggravated stalking with a credible threat, the prosecutor must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly followed, harassed, or cyberstalked another individual; and the accused made a credible threat intending to cause the victim to reasonably fear physical injury or death. A credible threat can be verbal or nonverbal and must put the target person in reasonable fear for his or her safety. A credible threat also includes a threat to the target person’s friend or family member. In these instances, it must be apparent that the accused has the ability to execute the threat. Even if a person cannot carry out the threat (such as if the accused is in prison), it is not a defense to aggravated stalking.
Child Aggravated Stalking
A person will face this charge if the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect maliciously, willfully, and repeatedly followed, cyberstalked, or harassed a victim who is aged 15 or younger.
Injunction Violation Aggravated Stalking
In order to prove this offense, the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused maliciously, willfully, and repeatedly followed, harassed or cyberstalked another individual and the victim had an injunction against the suspect for repeat violence, dating violence, sexual violence, domestic violence or some other form of conduct toward the protected person. In this instance, the suspect must know that he or she has an injunction that has been issued against him or her.
Victim of a Previous Crime Aggravated Stalking
The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person who is allegedly engaging in stalking was convicted for lewd lascivious crimes upon or in the presence of a child under the age of sixteen; sexual battery; or prohibited computer transmissions that are viewable to children under the age of sixteen, and while the accused was prohibited from being in contact with the target person of the previous conviction; and the suspect maliciously, willfully, and repeatedly followed, harassed, or cyberstalked the previous victim.
The Penalties for Aggravated Stalking in Florida
If an accused is convicted of any of the above-referenced aggravated stalking charges, he or she has committed a felony in the third degree which carries with it a term of prison or up to five years and a monetary fine of $5,000. If the offender has previously been convicted of stalking, he or she may face enhanced penalties.
Defenses to Stalking in Florida
A seasoned Florida criminal defense attorney can assist a person accused of stalking in developing a strong defense strategy. The defenses to stalking that may apply in one’s case are (i) the contact was for a legitimate purpose; (ii) false allegations; (iii) exaggerated allegations; (iv) flawed evidence; (v) engaging in First Amendment activities such as picketing or organized protesting; (vi) mistaken identity; and (vii) a reasonable person would not be fearful in light of the facts and circumstances of the case.
Contact Musca Law Today. Your Life and Your Liberty Depend Upon It!
If you are facing stalking or aggravated stalking charges in Florida, contact our seasoned Florida stalking defense attorneys at Musca Law as soon as possible in order to preserve your legal rights and interests. Our firm’s attorneys are among The National Trial Lawyers – Top 100 Trial Lawyers, included in the 2012 Florida Super Lawyers® for criminal defense, and boast 10.0 Superb Avvo ratings. We know how to protect your future. We are skilled, experienced, tenacious, and relentless when it comes to defending our clients. Our seasoned Florida criminal defense attorneys work zealously to exploit the weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and develop a strategic defense for our clients. Our record of success in and out of the courtroom speaks for itself. To learn more about how Musca Law can make a difference for you, call (888) 484-5057 today.