Stalking Injunctions Lawyers in Fort Myers, Florida
Under Florida law, any person can seek an injunction to protect him or her from stalking, domestic violence, repeat violence, dating violence, and sexual violence. However, when seeking an injunction – which is a civil court order preventing a person from continuing to commit alleged wrongful acts – the person seeking the injunction must provide evidence that his or her safety is at risk. Many Fort Myers residents believe that injunctions are criminal matters, but this is not the case. While the subject-matter of a protective injunction may be potentially criminal, the order itself does not conclude that a person has committed a crime.
Protective injunctions may be civil orders, but the consequences of being the subject of such an injunction can feel like a criminal conviction, especially because violating a protective injunction can lead to criminal charges. As such, when facing a stalking injunction (or any other type of protective injunction), an accused person should work alongside an experienced Fort Myers Criminal Defense and Stalking Injunction Defense Lawyer. Civil trial lawyers may be excellent in the courtroom when dealing with non-criminal matters, and even though a stalking injunction is technically a civil matter, a criminal defense attorney is better suited to handle the matter.
At Musca Law, our Fort Myers Stalking Injunction Defense Attorneys have the necessary experience, resources, reputation, and track record of success to help you fight a stalking injunction. If you are facing a stalking injunction, you should consider speaking with Musca Law, even if you are not facing any criminal charges. In many cases, the subject of a potential stalking injunction may also be facing criminal charges, and in such cases, our attorneys can handle both matters. To find out more about how Musca Law can help you, contact our office 24/7 by calling (888) 484-5057.
Protective Injunctions in Fort Myers, Florida
Injunctions have many varying names, as courts and jurisdictions across the country use slightly different wording in their laws. In Florida, protective injunctions may be known simply as injunctions, but also are often referred to as “protective orders,” and “restraining orders.” The injunction serves the purpose of stopping the behavior that a person believes to be harmful and potentially dangerous, posing a risk to a person’s life. As previously stated, anyone can file a petition seeking a protective injunction, and in many cases, courts will grant protective injunctions temporarily. While a civil court will issue the injunction, criminal penalties may exist if the injunction – which is a court order – is violated.
Different Protective Injunctions Under Florida Law
In Florida, a person can file a petition to seek one or more types of protective injunctions. There are five types of injunctions that address personal safety, which include the following:
- Stalking Injunction;
- Domestic Violence Injunction;
- Repeat Violence Injunction;
- Dating Violence Injunction; and
- Sexual Violence Injunction.
A person wishing to get a protective injunction must file a petition in a Fort Myers court. This person is then deemed the “petitioner,” and the person who is the subject of the requested protective injunction is the “respondent.” In the petition, the petitioner will allege that the respondent committed acts which make the petitioner feel unsafe. If the allegations appear credible to a judge, the judge is likely to grant a protective injunction temporarily, which allows time for the respondent to appear in court and defend him or herself.
All five types of protective injunctions seek the same result – to order a person to cease conduct, which allegedly places the petitioner’s safety at risk. The petitioner may file the petition on his or her own behalf or may file the petition on behalf of someone else, such as a minor child. The only difference between the different types of protective injunctions is the alleged underlying conduct at issue. Without the protective injunction, a petitioner asserts that the underlying conduct will continue.
The Crime of Stalking and Stalking Restraining Orders Under Florida Law
Stalking injunctions often, but not always, coincide with a criminal charge of stalking. The crime of stalking is unlike domestic violence, dating violence, repeat violence, and sexual violence in that the alleged respondent has not necessarily made physical contact with the petitioner. As such, anyone facing a stalking injunction in Fort Myers needs to have a good understanding of Florida’s stalking laws and what penalties may be assessed for conviction.
Per Florida Statute Section 784.048(2), a person may face stalking charges if probable cause exists that he or she “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person.” Under Florida law, the crime of stalking is considered a first-degree misdemeanor. A conviction can lead to a jail sentence of up to one year and the imposition of a fine of up to $1,000. To be convicted of stalking, Fort Myers prosecutors must prove each element of the crime. If one element cannot be established, the accused person must be acquitted.
Fort Myers prosecutors must prove that an accused person “harassed” or “cyberstalked” another person. Florida law defines “harass” as “engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes substantial emotional distress to that person and serves no legitimate purpose.” The statute goes on to define “course of conduct” as “a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period, however short, which evidences a continuity of purpose.”
Cyberstalking has become a more commonly charged crime as more people rely on electronic devices and the internet to handle most aspects of life. Florida law defines cyberstalking as “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 of Internet-connected home electronic systems of another person without that person’s permission, causing substantial emotional distress to that person and serving no legitimate purpose.” Fort Myers prosecutors will have to undergo an extensive investigation to determine whether an accused person’s conduct fits the definition of cyberstalking under Florida law. A person convicted of cyberstalking faces a first-degree misdemeanor, just like the crime of stalking. As such, he or she faces up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Aggravated Stalking Under Florida Law
Stalking rises to another level when an accused person makes a “credible threat” that places another person’s safety at risk. Under Florida law, Statute Section 784.048(3), a “person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that person commits the offense of aggravated stalking, a felony of the third degree.” A third-degree felony is a serious crime, and if convicted, a person faces up to five (5) years in jail as well as a fine of up to $5,000.
To meet its burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, Fort Myers prosecutors must establish that the accused person did make a “credible threat” as identified in the statute. Florida law defines “credible threat” as the following:
A “verbal or nonverbal threat, or a combination of the two, including threats delivered by electronic communication or implied by a pattern of conduct, which places the person who is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family members or individuals closely associated with the person, and which is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm. It is not necessary to prove that the person making the threat had the intent to actually carry out the threat.”
As with any crime under Florida law, failure to prove one element of a crime should result in dismissal of criminal charges by the prosecution or acquittal by a jury with a verdict of “not guilty.” Because aggravated stalking is a felony that carries numerous life-long consequences, anyone facing aggravated stalking charges is urged to work with a highly-skilled Fort Myers Criminal Defense and Stalking Injunction Defense Lawyer.
Stalking Injunctions in Lee County, Florida
Whether a person is facing criminal stalking charges or not, he or she still may face a potential stalking injunction if a petitioner believes his or her safety is at risk. Per Florida Statute Section 784.0485, a “person who is the victim of stalking or the parent or legal guardian of a minor who is living at home who seeks an injunction for protection against stalking on behalf of the minor child has standing in the circuit court to file a sworn petition for an injunction for protection against stalking.”
Moreover, in the case of David v. Schack, 192 So. 3d 625, 627-28 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016), to be entitled to a stalking injunction, “the petitioner must allege and prove two separate instances of stalking.” Further, in Touhey v. Seda, 133 So. 3d 1203, 1204 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014), the court ruled that each instance of stalking “must be proven by competent, substantial evidence to support an injunction against stalking.”
A petitioner seeking a stalking injunction in Fort Myers must meet various requirements and file the petition by using the Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.980(t). The petitioner will identify the reason(s) for seeking the protective injunction. Examples of reasons provided on the court-approved form include, but may not be limited to, the following:
- The respondent destroyed personal property, including, but not limited to, telephones or other communication equipment, clothing, or other items belonging to the petitioner;
- The respondent is the subject of a prior order of protection issued against him/her in another court, jurisdiction, or state;
- The respondent has a criminal history involving violence or the threat of violence;
- The respondent used, or threatened to use, weapons (such as firearms and knives) against the petitioner;
- The respondent threatened to harm the petitioner or family members of individuals closely associated with the petitioner;
- The respondent previously threatened, harassed, stalked, cyberstalked, or physically abused the petitioner; or
- The respondent has been found guilty of stalking or aggravated stalking in a criminal matter.
If requested by the court, a petitioner must provide whatever proof he or she has available to support the underlying allegations identified in the petition. A judge will review the petition as well as any available evidence and will decide to either grant the petition for a protective injunction temporarily or deny the petition. If the judge grants the petition, the respondent will be served with a copy of the protective injunction and will be required to appear in fifteen (15) days for a hearing. At the time of the hearing, both parties will appear to argue the validity of the underlying allegations. The respondent will need a qualified attorney present to defend against the petitioner’s allegations.
A judge will determine, after hearing arguments from both sides and reviewing any available evidence, to either extend the protective injunction permanently or dismiss the petition. The judge’s decision has a substantial impact on a respondent’s legal rights, as a respondent will have to comply with any order entered by the court. If a judge grants a petitioner’s request for a stalking injunction permanently, the respondent will be subject to criminal penalties if he or she violates any portion of the injunction.
Understanding the Consequences of a Fort Myers Stalking Restraining Order
Once a judge enters a permanent stalking injunction order in Fort Myers, respondents must be cautious to ensure they are not exposing themselves to any criminal liability. While stalking injunctions are technically permanent after a full hearing, respondents can always seek the revocation or modification of a stalking injunction in the future. However, to avoid the harsh consequences of a stalking injunction, anyone facing such an injunction should act quickly to retain a Fort Myers Criminal Defense and Stalking Injunction Defense Lawyer who can thoroughly evaluate the facts of the situation and determine the best course of action. The goal is to reach a result that is fair to the respondent, given the available evidence supporting underlying allegations of stalking.
In addition to being precluded from encountering a petitioner, a respondent who is the subject of a Fort Myers stalking injunction will be required to surrender all firearms and ammunition to law enforcement officers. Such an infringement of one’s constitutional rights is staggering, given that a stalking injunction is a civil order and not a criminal conviction.
Also, the judge issuing a Fort Myers stalking injunction may require a respondent to undergo mental health treatment at the respondent’s expense. The consequences of being the subject of a stalking injunction in Fort Myers are more severe than the consequences of misdemeanors that do not result in the confiscation of firearms and ammunition. As such, it cannot be stressed enough how essential it is to work alongside the best attorney to handle a stalking injunction in Fort Myers.
The Modification or Termination of Stalking Injunctions in Fort Myers
After a judge issues a permanent stalking injunction in Fort Myers, the respondent can file a motion seeking to modify or terminate the stalking injunction. In doing so, the respondent must submit evidence and documentation that justifies the modification or termination of the stalking injunction. For example, if a respondent obtained evidence that the petitioner who sought the stalking injunction had admitted to making false allegations (perhaps documented by a text message, email, or another form of communication), a court will undoubtedly want to review such evidence and reconsider the existing stalking injunction.
Defending a Fort Myers Petition for Permanent Stalking Restraining Order
Most allegations have defenses that can help to successfully fight a petition for a stalking injunction in Fort Myers. Because stalking injunctions are civil matters and not criminal proceedings, many people facing stalking injunctions appear on their own behalf in court and do not seek the assistance of an attorney. These individuals often do not realize the severity of the consequences associated with a stalking injunction and how they are exposed to criminal liability if they violate any portion of a stalking injunction.
Individuals facing stalking injunctions need a qualified attorney to explain to them what legal rights are on the line and what steps can be taken to fight the stalking injunction. By choosing to work with the right attorney, respondents have a much better chance of successfully overcoming allegations of stalking as well as successfully defending against a permanent stalking injunction.
Contact the Fort Myers Stalking Injunction Defense Lawyers of Musca Law Today
Facing a stalking injunction can negatively impact your legal rights. As such, if you are facing a stalking injunction, it is important to act quickly to speak with a Fort Myers Defense Attorney. At Musca Law, our legal team has been fighting for the legal rights of Florida citizens for decades. We understand the seriousness of the situation you may be facing. Many Fort Myers Stalking Injunction Defense Lawyers working for Musca Law are among the Top 100 Trial Lawyers named by the National Trial Lawyers Association. Additionally, many of our attorneys have been named Super Lawyers for criminal defense. To learn more about how Musca Law can help you fight a stalking injunction, contact our office today by calling (888) 484-5057.