Fundamentals of Stalking Laws in Florida
Interactions and relationships with other people can be complex, and in recent years there has been a lot of discussion in the Florida Legislature about the type of stalking and unwanted attention that can be considered a criminal offense, as well as the various degrees of penalties that should be involved.
If you have been accused of stalking or repeatedly making unwanted contact or threats against another person, you need to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure that your rights are protected.
Defining Stalking in Florida
As a general rule, stalking means engaging in multiple malicious and willful acts of harassment against another person. To fully understand the statute and what criminal charges it may entail, you need to understand how some of the terms of the statute are defined.
- Harassment: Harassment is described as conduct that is aimed at a specific person that has no legitimate purpose and causes the target emotional distress.
- Credible Threat: Under Florida law, a credible threat can be verbal, nonverbal, or a combination. To be considered a credible threat the alleged victim must be in reasonable fear for their safety or the safety of a loved one.
- Cyberstalk: Under Florida law, cyberstalking is electronically communicating words or images to a specific person when such communications cause the recipient substantial emotional distress. It can also involve attempting to access a person’s online accounts without their permission.
Depending on the behavior in question, the charges a person can face may include any or all of the above actions.
MISDEMEANOR vs. FELONY STALKING
Based on the behavior in question, Florida stalking may result in misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the circumstances. Generally, misdemeanor stalking occurs when an individual maliciously, willfully, and repeatedly cyberstalks or harasses another person. Aggravated stalking, on the other hand, is typically considered a felony offense.
One of the primary differences between the two is if the defendant made a “credible threat” to the alleged victim. If so, it enhances the crime to aggravated stalking.
What Constitutes Aggravated Stalking?
Aggravated stalking is a serious crime and carries significantly higher penalties than stalking. In Florida, there are generally four types of aggravated stalking.
Credible Threat Stalking
To be charged with credible threat stalking, the defendant must put the victim in reasonable fear for their safety or the safety of family and friends. If the State charges you with aggravated stalking based on a credible threat, there’s no requirement that you carry out the threat. The fact that you were able to carry it out at the time it was made is enough to charge you with aggravated stalking.
An individual will be charged with aggravated stalking if they maliciously, willfully, and repeatedly follow, cyberstalk, or harass a victim who is 15 years old or younger.
Victim of a Previous Crime of Stalking
Suppose you were previously convicted of lewd, lascivious crimes upon a child, sexual battery, or prohibited computer transmission, and a judge prohibited you from contacting the alleged victim. If, after being told not to contact the alleged victim, you maliciously, willfully, and repeatedly follow, harass, or cyberstalk the victim, you will likely face aggravated stalking charges.
Injunction Violation Stalking
Injunction violation stalking is seen most often in domestic violence cases. To be guilty of this type of stalking, an injunction must exist against you for repeat violence, dating violence, sexual violence, or domestic violence. With such an injunction in place, a defendant must maliciously, willfully, and repeatedly follow, harass, or cyberstalk the person who got the injunction. For a judge or jury to find you guilty, the prosecutor must show that you knew the injunction or restraining order was in place at the time of the stalking.
To learn more about Florida stalking charges, contact our criminal stalking lawyer to schedule a consultation.
Statutory Penalties for Stalking
Typically, stalking is charged as a first-degree misdemeanor offense. A crime of this nature is punishable with a fine up to $1,000, as much as a year behind bars, and up to one year on probation.
However, if a person commits aggravated stalking, it is considered a third-degree felony and may be punished with a fine up to $5,000, five years in prison, and five years of probation.
Generally, any form of aggravated stalking is classified as a third-degree felony. In other words, if a person commits aggravated stalking by making a credible threat, stalking a child, violating an injunction, or stalking a previous victim, they face a felony charge.
If you face stalking charges, an attorney will be your best advocate throughout any investigation or trial.
In addition to the statutory penalties, stalking charges will lead to a criminal record and unfavorable collateral consequences. Stalking charges carry a negative stigma and can impact your professional and personal relationships. Depending on the circumstances and the underlying offense (e.g., sexual assault related stalking), you could also be required to register as a sex offender. The best way to avoid any statutory or collateral consequences is to hire a stalking defense lawyer immediately.
Defending Against Stalking Charges
When it comes to facing charges for stalking, there is no substitute for an experienced criminal defense attorney. Our attorneys will work to create the best possible defense for you. There are numerous defenses we may use, but they may include the following:
- The First Amendment: If you were engaged in an activity that could be considered a constitutionally protected activity, such as picketing or protesting, it is not stalking.
- Legitimate Purpose: If the communication you had with the victim was for a legitimate purpose such as legal matters, business, or child custody, it will not be considered stalking, even if the communication was heated.
Contact our stalking attorney at Moses & Rooth to discuss your potential defenses.
Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If you are facing stalking charges, let the team at Moses & Rooth, Attorneys at Law, ensure that your rights are protected and advise you of your legal options. We may be able to get the charges against you reduced or even dismissed. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.