Being accused of any crime is frightening—especially if that crime is stalking, cyberstalking, or harassment. These are serious accusations that could lead to a number of legal penalties, including incarceration. For this reason, it’s imperative to aggressively fight your charges with the help of a Tampa criminal defense attorney.
But first, it’s important to understand more about the crimes of stalking, cyberstalking, and harassment in the state of Florida. How does the law define these criminal activities? What penalties will you face if you are convicted? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and more.
What Does Florida Law Say About Stalking, Cyberstalking, and Harassment?
Stalking, cyberstalking, and harassment are considered three separate crimes in some states. But in Florida, harassment and cyberstalking are not recognized as crimes. However, stalking is a criminal offense in Florida, and cyberstalking and harassment are both activities that could lead to a stalking conviction.
How Does the Law in Florida Define Stalking?
A person commits the crime of stalking if they willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follow, harass or cyberstalk another person. The crime becomes aggravated stalking if the defendant either makes a credible threat toward the victim or the victim is under the age of 16 at the time the crime was committed.
A “credible threat” is any verbal or nonverbal threat which causes the targeted victim to reasonably fear for their safety or the safety of their family members. It is only considered credible if the person had the reasonable ability to carry out their threat. There is no need to prove that the person intended on carrying out the threat—only that they were capable of doing so.
How Does the Law Define Harassing and Cyberstalking?
Based on the legal definition of stalking, it’s clear that you can be charged with this criminal offense if you harass or cyberstalk another person in the state of Florida. But what does it mean to harass or cyberstalk someone?
Harassing someone means engaging in a pattern of behavior that causes another person to suffer substantial emotional distress and serves no valid purpose.
Florida law defines cyberstalking as causing substantial emotional distress by either:
- Engaging in a pattern of behavior to communicate electronically using words, images, or other means directed at a specific person, or
- Accessing or attempting to access another person’s online accounts or Internet-connected systems without that person’s authorization.
If you engage in either one of these criminal activities willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly, you may be charged with the crime of stalking.
What Are Examples of Stalking?
Due to its broad legal definition, stalking can include a number of different activities such as:
- Harassing someone online.
- Posting false information about someone online.
- Sending a person gifts that are not wanted.
- Repeatedly contacting a person.
- Attempting to communicate with a person who does not want to communicate with you.
- Spreading rumors about another person.
- Following or waiting for someone outside of their work, school, or other area.
These are some of the many activities that may be considered stalking in the state of Florida.
What Are the Penalties For Stalking in Florida?
Stalking is classified as a first degree misdemeanor in the state of Florida. If you are convicted of this crime, you could face up to one year in jail in addition to up to $1,000 in fines.
But if you are charged with aggravated stalking, you could face even more serious penalties. Aggravated stalking is classified as a third degree felony. If you are convicted of aggravated stalking, you can face up to five years in prison in addition to up to $5,000 in fines.
The court can also issue a restraining order to protect the victim from the defendant as part of the defendant’s sentence. This restraining order, which would prohibit the defendant from making contact with the victim, may remain in effect for up to 10 years depending on the nature of the crime.
How Can You Fight Stalking Charges?
It’s important to remember that being arrested and charged with stalking does not mean that you will be convicted of this crime. There are a number of defense strategies that can be used to fight stalking charges. Some examples include:
- The activity was protected by your First Amendment rights.
- The activity was not criminal in nature because it served a legitimate purpose. For example, if you repeatedly contact your ex-spouse to discuss child custody, this may not be considered stalking since it serves a legitimate purpose.
- The threat against the victim was not credible, so the charges should be reduced from aggravated stalking to stalking.
- The activity does not meet the legal definition of harassing or cyberstalking behavior.
- The defendant has been mistaken for another person.
- The defendant did not maliciously or willfully engage in the activity.
The defense strategy that is used to fight your charges will depend on the details of your case. Your attorney will need to review your case to determine the most effective strategy that can be used to fight your charges.
But remember, the burden of proof ultimately falls on the state. This means it is up to the state to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt—you are not required to prove your innocence.
Discuss Your Legal Options With An Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Have you been accused of stalking, cyberstalking, or harassing someone in the state of Florida? If so, it’s imperative to seek legal representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney in Tampa as soon as possible. Turn to the trusted team of attorneys at Carlson Meissner Hart & Hayslett, who have over 125 years of combined legal experience representing the accused.
We have helped over 15,000 clients reach the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. Now, let us get to work for you. Contact our law firm today to schedule a free consultation regarding your case.