Stalking Injunction Defense Lawyers in St. Petersburg, Florida
Stalking and cyberstalking crimes in St. Petersburg, Florida, are taken very seriously by prosecutors and the courts. The actions that constitute stalking and cyberstalking harm the alleged victim by violating her or his rights to be left alone as well as to feel secure while in public and at home. As a result, the courts are quick to hand down injunctions against stalking in St. Petersburg, Florida, to protect a stalking victim from harm. Although a stalking injunction in St. Petersburg is a civil order, the person ordered to obey the court’s order could face significant consequences for violating the order, including being arrested and charged with a crime. Furthermore, the state attorney for the Sixth Judicial District, which includes Pinellas County —where St. Petersburg lies — as well as Pasco County, instructs his prosecutors to aggressively pursue the most severe stalking-related charges possible so that the convicted offender might receive a harsh prison term.
Florida law allows courts to order an injunction against abuse for various reasons. People may refer to injunctions as either protective orders or restraining orders. Injunctions against a particular behavior and criminal charges are often pursued simultaneously. However, an alleged victim can ask the court to order an injunction without seeking criminal charges at the same time, even though the factual basis the victim must describe to the judge if proven beyond a reasonable doubt would be sufficient to convict the accused of a crime. Sometimes civil judges hearing petitions for injunctions refer the complainant to the state attorney or the police to process criminal charges if the allegations are severe. The judge has the authority to punish a person for violating the terms of an injunction and send that individual to jail or prison. Accordingly, anyone who was served with notice of an injunction must contact a highly-skilled Stalking Injunction and Criminal Defense Attorney in St. Petersburg.
Musca Law’s well-trained and seasoned criminal trial attorneys have represented numerous clients facing Stalking Injunctions and related criminal charges in courts throughout Florida. Our criminal defense attorneys have counseled and defended people of facing a wide variety of criminal charges in Florida, ranging from minor motor vehicle offenses to capital felonies. Our broad range of experience gives us an advantage over others when fighting for our clients’ rights in St. Petersburg and throughout the state of Florida. Turn to Musca Law if you are facing stalking charges in addition to a stalking injunction or are solely facing an injunction. Contact Musca Law today by dialing (888) 484-5057 to learn more about your rights.
Varieties of Injunctions for Protection in St. Petersburg, Florida
Florida law authorizes judges to issue protective orders against a person accused of harmful or threatening behavior directed toward a particular person to prevent further harm or threatening behavior committed by a person whom the court perceives as dangerous. Florida law divides protective injunctions into categories that govern individual behaviors and relationships. Categories of protective injunctions include:
- Stalking Injunctions;
- Sexual Violence Injunctions;
- Dating Violence Injunctions;
- Repeat Violence Injunctions; and
- Domestic Violence Injunctions.
The person seeking protection from the court must file a petition with the court identifying which particular injunction governs her or his specific situation. In St. Petersburg and other Florida courts, the person who submits the petition, to whom Florida law refers as the “petitioner,” must complete a form approved by the Supreme Court of Florida. The petitioner swears that all of the information she or he wrote on the forms is true, regardless of which type of injunction the petitioner requested. The person about whom the petitioner is complaining is called the “respondent in Florida injunction proceedings.”
Upon filing a petition for protection against stalking, repeat violence, domestic abuse, or sexual violence in St. Petersburg, the case will go before the judge. The judge will review the allegations outlined in the petition. The judge’s authority is limited at this time. The judge reviews the petition to decide if the petition should be immediately dismissed or if the judge should authorize a temporary restraining order. A temporary injunction or restraining order is only valid for fifteen (15) days. The law requires the respondent to receive formal notice of the temporary order and the date for the final hearing on a permanent injunction. At the final hearing, the judge will decide if the petitioner’s request for a permanent injunction should be allowed or denied.
Florida law grants “standing,” which is the legal right to make a claim in court, to petitioners in varying situations. A petitioner has standing to file a request for an injunction on behalf of herself or himself individually, as a parent or guardian of a minor child who was victimized, or on behalf of a household member, depending on the circumstances and the type of petition filed. Whatever the nature of the relationship between the person who filed the petition in court and the person seeking protection, the respondent needs to align himself or herself with a St. Petersburg Criminal Defense and Stalking Injunction Defense Attorney.
Stalking and Cyberstalking in St. Petersburg, Florida, Defined
Successfully defending a petition to prevent stalking or cyberstalking in St. Petersburg requires a thorough understanding of Florida’s stalking and cyberstalking laws. As discussed briefly above, the petitioner seeking protection from the court against a stalker or cyberstalker can request a law enforcement investigation and criminal charges, but the law does not require contemporaneous criminal charges.
Florida state statute §784.048(2) defines stalking as the term is used by a court in St. Petersburg in both criminal and civil court. Under §784.048(2), a person guilty of stalking charges when he or she follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another individual. The act must be done repeatedly. Also, the person accused of stalking must commit the acts willfully and maliciously. Stalking is a misdemeanor in the first degree in Florida. The law allows for imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year and the imposition of a fine no more than $1,000.00.
Stalking charges sound incredibly serious, and they are, but stalking charges in St. Petersburg can be defended successfully with a criminal defense lawyer who understands how to convince a judge or jury that the allegations are untrue or exaggerated. The state’s attorney always has the burden of proof in a St. Petersburg criminal case. The burden of proof, which is probably familiar to many, is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Failing to prove every element, or component, of a stalking charge, requires the jury or judge to acquit the accused. Thus, a skilled Stalking Injunction and Criminal Defense Lawyer from St. Petersburg can rely on years of experience defending serious criminal cases to unlock a defense strategy that could protect the accused from a stalking conviction.
Stalking in Florida is not a crime unless the accused harasses the alleged victim. The definition of “harass” under Florida law refers to actions that serve no legitimate purpose other than to inflict substantial emotional distress to the victim throughout the course of conduct. The phrase “course of conduct” also has a strict definition. Florida’s laws define “course of conduct” as a series of acts that occurred within a particular timeframe, however brief, which demonstrate the same continuity of purpose. A knowledgeable St. Petersburg Stalking Injunction and Criminal Defense Lawyer will explain these terms in greater detail with you and help explain these vague legal phrases.
Definition of Cyberstalking in St. Petersburg, Florida
Interpersonal communication has evolved tremendously in two decades, and Florida law has evolved along with it. Florida’s legislature recognized that cyberstalking is intrusive and can cause the victim extreme emotional distress. Consequently, Florida’s legislature criminalized the behavior.
Cyberstalking is also a first-degree misdemeanor. A person is guilty of cyberstalking when prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged perpetrator communicated through a course of conduct, or communicated through a third-party, any images, words, or other language through a course of conduct, sent to a particular person through electronic communication or electronic mail. Additionally, a person who infiltrates online accounts of electronic devices connected to a person’s home internet system without any legitimate purpose and causing substantial emotional distress is also guilty of cyberstalking.
Cyberstalking covers every means of electronic communication. The legislature wrote the law broadly enough to encompass phone calls, texting, social media messaging, and social media posts as acts of cyberstalking.
Aggravated Cyberstalking in St. Petersburg, Florida
The police can charge the alleged stalking perpetrator with aggravated stalking, which is a felony rather than a misdemeanor stalking. Law enforcement can charge a person with aggravated stalking under Florida state statute §784.048(3) if the safety of the alleged victim is in jeopardy from a credible threat by the person accused of stalking. Aggravated stalking incorporates behavior such as repeatedly harassing, following, or cyberstalking another while communicating a threat deemed to be credible to the victim. A conviction of aggravated stalking in Florida subjects the offender to a maximum prison sentence of five (5) years and a monetary fine of no more than $5,000.00, or both, as a third-degree felony.
The phrase “credible threat” has a highly specific definition under Florida law. A credible threat is a threat, whether communicated verbally, nonverbally, or a combination of both, in person or through electronic means, which compels the victim to believe her or his safety, or the safety of a family member is in jeopardy based on the threat. The threat is credible if the communication demonstrates or implies a pattern of conduct and implies the ability to carry out the threat. The intent of the accused to carry out the threat is not relevant. The crime is complete upon communication of the credible threat.
Only a criminal defense attorney with a history of defending tough cases knows how to expose the weaknesses in the government’s aggravated stalking case and exploit them. Accordingly, an aggressive St. Petersburg Criminal Defense and Stalking Injunction Defense Attorney can convincingly argue why the prosecutor could not meet its burden of proof to show the accused communicated a credible threat to the alleged victim. Our criminal trial attorneys at Musca Law have shredded prosecutions, which seemed insurmountable before trial through their exhaustive strategizing and understanding how to exploit weaknesses in a case.
Stalking Injunctions in Pinellas County Florida
An experienced and knowledgeable Stalking Injunction Defense Lawyer will deconstruct a petitioner’s case as the lawyer would attack a criminal charge. The individual who believes he or she is the victim of stalking and the parent or guardian of a minor child still residing in the family home who seeks an injunction on behalf of the minor child have standing, or the legal ground, to file a petition for an injunction against stalking in St. Petersburg, Florida, according to Florida state statute 784.0485.
Two decisions issued by Florida appellate courts guide litigants when arguing their case for or against a stalking injunction in St. Petersburg. In the case of David v. Schack, 192 So. 3d 625 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016), clarified Florida’s stalking injunction law. The court ruled that the petitioner has the burden to allege and prove at least two instances of stalking to be eligible for the protection provided by a stalking injunction.
Additionally, a Florida appellate court in Touhey v. Seda, 133 So. 3d 1203 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014), described the level of proof required for each alleged incident of stalking to justify the judge’s decision to issue a permanent stalking injunction. In Touhey, the court held that the petitioner has the burden to prove every incident of stalking the petitioner alleges in support of her or his petition occurred by competent and substantial evidence. Failing that, the judge must dismiss the petition.
The petitioner must complete Family Law Form 12.980(t), approved for use by the Florida Supreme Court when filing a petition for an injunction to prevent stalking. The petitioner must fill out the form in its entirety and provide a written narrative of the factual allegations. Family Law Form 12.980(t) lists commonly-cited factual allegations which the petitioner could cite as authority to justify issuing the petition. Commonly-cited reasons for an injunction listed on the form are:
- The respondent damaged or destroyed personal property belonging to the petitioner;
- The respondent was a respondent of another order of protection in Florida or any other state;
- The respondent’s criminal history of violence or making threats;
- The respondent threatened the petitioner with a deadly weapon;
- The respondent communicated a threat to harm the petitioner or the petitioner’s family, or individuals closely associated with the petitioner;
- The respondent has previously harassed, stalked, threatened, physically abused, or cyberstalked the petitioner; or
- The respondent’s criminal history shows convictions for stalking or cyberstalking in the past.
A judge will review the petition once all of the forms have been completed. The judge could ask the petitioner to supplement her or his petition with evidence such as photographs, copies of text messages, or other documents. The judge will then decide whether issuing a temporary injunction is appropriate. On most occasions, the judge will allow a temporary order to preserve the status quo with the expectation that no immediate harm will come to the petitioner.
The respondent has an absolute right to appear in defense of an injunction to prevent stalking. In an attempt to preserve a petitioner’s right to due process, Florida law mandates a final hearing within fifteen (15) days after the date the temporary order issued.
A critical component of a person’s guaranteed due process rights is the right to notice and to be heard. Therefore, the sheriff of the county in which the respondent lives must serve upon him or her a copy of all of the terms of the temporary order which the respondent must obey and notification of the final hearing date. The final hearing date can be changed by the court at the request of either party upon a showing of good cause.
The respondent has the right to call witnesses, testify personally, cross-examine the petitioner, and present physical evidence in support of his or her argument asking the court to deny the petition. The judge will rule on the petition after weighing the evidence and listening to the parties’ respective arguments.
Florida law grants the judge wide latitude to set conditions of the injunction designed to protect the petitioner. The judge could order the respondent to stay away from the petitioner, have no contact with the petitioner, attend mental health counseling, and surrender all firearms and ammunition.
An injunction effectively restricts the respondent’s ability to live his or her life in any way he or she sees fit. No one has the right to commit a crime against another person. However, an injunction issued without justification could prevent the respondent from talking to or visiting family, including his or her children, possess firearms consistent with the Second Amendment, obtain employment, and restrict freedom of movement.
Modifying an Injunction to Prevent Stalking in St. Petersburg
Either party can move the court to amend an injunction. Additionally, the parties could file a joint motion if they agree on the issue. Also, one of the parties could ask the court to terminate the injunction if the court issued a permanent order without an expiration date.
Defending Stalking Injunctions in St. Petersburg
Our St. Petersburg Defense Lawyers with Musca Law will fight to protect your rights. Taking the case on without competent and experienced defense counsel is dangerous. Most respondents believe they have done nothing wrong and, therefore, could handle the matter personally. However, stalking is a crime, and anyone facing criminal allegations, even if no criminal charges are pending, has an absolute privilege against self-incrimination. A respondent waives that right, unknowingly, by speaking in defense of a stalking injunction without an attorney arguing for his or her best interests.
Vigorous defense against an injunction to protect against stalking is available 24/7 by calling Musca Law right now at (888) 484-5057. We look forward to making a difference for you.