Stalking Lawyers in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Defend Your Interests with Help from Musca Law
When one person develops a harmful fascination with somebody else, it often paves the way for unreasonable and oftentimes threatening behavior. In the majority of situations, stalking or harassment includes some form of health problem. Most of the time this behavior is the result of either a mental or emotional disorder, or some form of drug or alcohol abuse or addiction.
Sadly, these issues do not constitute legitimate defenses by themselves or combined with one another. This is exactly the reason why you should have a reputable Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney by your side. Musca Law is able to help with that.
Stalking used to be primarily thought of as a crime that only celebrities had to endure. As instant, digital information and communication have, however, developed into something that is easily accessible to just about everybody, the amount of stalking cases have grown exponentially.
Most of the harassment and stalking charges in recent times arise from conversations that take place over email, the telephone, social media platforms, and text messaging. Even though it only requires a couple of seconds to write down and send a short message, it could be the catalyst that sends you to state prison for a considerable length of time.
The professional criminal defense attorneys here at the Fort Lauderdale offices of Musca Law in Florida understand that these kinds of cases are usually chock full of emotions and are, for the most part, psychologically exhausting for anyone who is involved. This is at least partially due to the fact that the accuser and the accused already know one other, likely from one of the following:
- A romantic involvement that has since gone bad
- Neighbors who are involved in a feud
- Schoolmates who do not get along with one another. Sometimes bullying is involved
- Friends fighting over different opinions or ideas that were shared online
- Former co-workers, colleagues, and bosses
It very seldom happens that a case of harassment or stalking is completely arbitrary, although it may occasionally include a mistaken or imaginary relationship as in cases of celebrity stalking.
Statistics on Stalking in the State of Florida
Accusations of stalking have increased substantially since more than 67% of all Americans routinely have access to a smartphone. This means that fast-paced information and communication is always close at hand and takes mere seconds to access. This also tells us that people have the ability to instantly transmit messages when they are still in the heat of the moment. Not only does this increase the odds of people sending messages in a fit of emotion that they will later regret, but it also increases the likelihood that a message can be misinterpreted by its reader.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, back in 2014, there were a total of 137 reports of aggravated stalking, 2,011 reports of intimidation and threats, and 389 reports of plain stalking, Recently published research has indicated that crimes involving stalking have gone up by 12 percent in the state of Florida between the years 2008 and 2010.
A significant portion of the time, these cases are the end result of a miscommunication between the accuser and the accused. Occasionally, the allegations even turn out to be entirely made up. Even in the event that there is a tiny grain of truth to the story, the alleged offender’s behavior is customarily prone to a great deal of exaggeration, either by the alleged victim or by overeager police officers and state prosecutors.
Our professional team of attorneys is ready to vigorously protect you, your rights, and ensure that you get the best outcome possible for your particular situation.
At this time, the law in the state of Florida does not identify stalking and harassment as two distinct offenses. Instead, Florida claims harassment as an activity that has the potential to turn into an arrest and conviction for stalking, while classifying stalking as a criminal act, as outlined in Florida Statute 748.048. Furthermore, there is still no distinct law for cyberstalking, a crime whose legal definition is “to engage in a course of conduct online intended to cause emotional distress to a single person for no legitimate purpose.”
There is, although, a different law that pertains to telephone calls that are obscene or harassing in their intent as outlined in Florida Statute 365.16. This statue, however, concerns only those cases where electronic forms of communication are involved.
Based mainly on the severity of the crime, a person could be looking at either felony or misdemeanor charges.
What Is Stalking?
The United States Department of Justice describes the crime of stalking as a pattern of persistent and undesired contact, attention, harassment or any additional method of communication that is aimed at a particular person and occasions the accuser to experience genuine and reasonable fear.
The crime of stalking may include but is not limited to:
- Invasive, scary, undesired and/or persistent contact via telephone, email or mail
- Continually gifting things such as candies, flowers or other presents that are unwelcome and unwanted
- Tailing or hanging out waiting for a person at their home, work, recreational area or school
- Tendering indirect or direct threats, to either the victim themselves or to her or his relatives, children, friends, parents, or pets
- Attacking the victim in an online setting
- Damaging the victim’s personal property or saying that you will
- Creating gossip, rumors or spreading phony or real private information concerning the victim on the internet, by word of mouth, or in any public area
- Obtaining private information about the victim by contacting her or his relatives, friends, co-workers or neighbors, obtaining public records, employing a private detective, or sifting through the victim’s trash or recycling
What is Harassment?
Harassment is defined as participating in a manner of behavior that is explicitly aimed at a particular person and that causes a great deal of emotional suffering to the individual and is conducted for absolutely no valid reason.
What is Cyberstalking?
- Cyberstalking is defined as communicating with a particular person via images, language, or words using a form of electronic communication, all with the expected outcome of causing serious emotional suffering to the individual and is conducted for absolutely no valid reason.
In terms of the internet, a few instances of cyberstalking include but are not limited to:
- Sending the victim unrequested email
- Sending the victim cruel, offensive, or insulting messages
- Spreading cruel gossip, sharing extremely delicate or private information or making public confidential pictures
- Threatening to cause injury to the victim or to a person that they love or care about
Although all of these instances typically include some kind of technology, stalking can also be a pattern of behavior, such as hanging around the victim’s home or place of work, or a physical threat.
Anybody who deliberately, malevolently and continually pursues, cyberstalks, or harasses someone else is actively committing the crime of stalking, which is normally a misdemeanor in the first degree, which can be penalized by as long as one full year in county jail.
Misdemeanor Vs. Felony
The distinction between felony and misdemeanor stalking is the existence of a convincing threat. Florida Statute 784.048(2) states that anyone who deliberately, malevolently and continually pursues, cyberstalks, or harasses anybody else is actively committing the crime of stalking, which is a misdemeanor in the first degree. This means that the maximum sentence includes:
- As long as one full year in county jail
- As long as one year of supervised probation
- Administrative fines of as much as $1,000
Additionally, Florida Statute 784.08(3) states that a person is engaging in aggravated stalking in the event that she or he deliberately, malevolently and continually pursues, cyberstalks, or harasses someone else and also makes a believable threat towards that individual. This is classified as a felony in the third degree, which typically carries a sentence of:
- As long as five years in state prison
- As long as five years of supervised probation
- As much as $5,000 in administrative fines
What exactly is meant by a believable threat? A believable threat is defined as a threat, either verbal or non-verbal, or any pattern of the two, which will cover anything sent through email or suggested by a pattern of behavior, that causes the victim who is on the receiving end of all this to be understandably afraid for her or his own security or the security of their friends, family or other close acquaintances. The threat must be given by someone with the obvious capacity to see the harmful act all the way through.
It is also important to mention that in the event that there is a legal restraining order in effect, then no believable threat is needed for the state prosecutor to be able to file a felony charge.
- Threats and Extortion: Threats and extortion are defined as to orally or through writing threaten to harm a person or to destroy their personal property or their reputation for the purposes of monetary benefit or to force the victim to perform an action against their will
Threats and extortion are a felony in the second degree that typically carries a sentence of as long as 15 years in state prison.
Threats and extortion are criminal acts where the alleged offender's intention are important. This is a notable quality because in the case of a majority of crimes intention does not count for anything at all. For instance, let’s say that you drive a car recklessly and it results in a car collision and you end up killing another person. The fact that you had absolutely no intention of causing a car crash and killing another person will not be of any help to you in attempting to work your way out of a conviction for DUI manslaughter.
The state is not required, in these instances, to prove that the offender planned to genuinely see the threat through. They only have to show that it was rational on the part of the victim to be afraid that they would. Furthermore, even the fact that the alleged offender was in jail at the time that the threat supposedly took place will not be enough to stop the state from filing the charge.
Another situation in which the state can charge someone with the crime of aggravated stalking, even in the event that there was no believable threat, would be if the supposed target was younger than 16 years of age.
In this particular scenario, the offense will be increased to a felony in the third degree instead of a misdemeanor in the first degree.
Another situation in which someone might be charged with a felony for the crime of stalking, in spite of never having made a believable threat, would be if there was an injunction for protection against the alleged offender already for:
- A charge of domestic violence
- A charge of sexual violence
- A charge of dating violence
- Any repeat violent offenses
- Any additional court-mandated prohibition of conduct regarding the victim
In either instance, the state will have to prove that the offender deliberately, continually and with malevolence pursued, cyberstalked or harassed the victim.
Defense to Stalking Allegations
Our criminal defense attorneys in Fort Lauderdale have a wide variety of legal defenses that we are able to utilize should they apply to your case, including:
- First Amendment Activity: If the offender was participating in behavior that is deemed protected by the United States Constitution such as organized protesting or picketing then their behavior is not considered stalking.
- Legitimate Purpose: Communication that was initiated for a valid reason, like through business exchange, the custody of a child, or other legal issues is also not viewed as stalking. In the event that any of these exchanges become volatile, it is still not fundamentally stalking because the underlying purpose has been deemed valid.
If you or someone that you love are facing charges of stalking or harassment in the Fort Lauderdale area, then we strongly advise you to reach out to the legal team here at Musca Law. Our criminal defense attorneys who specialize in stalking and harassment crimes will be happy to examine your case and explain what legal options you currently have available and what your next steps should be.
Don’t hesitate to contact our Fort Lauderdale office today at (954) 302-5391 to schedule a free initial case consultation with one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys.