In the state of Florida, the criminal offense of stalking is defined as follows:
“A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of stalking.” 784.048(2)
To fully understand the definition of stalking you need to know how some other important terms are defined such as “harasses” and “cyberstalks”.
· Harrasses – means to engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes substantial emotional distress to that person and serves no legitimate purpose.
· Cyberstalks — means to engage in 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, causing substantial emotional distress to that person and serving no legitimate purpose.
- Cyberbullying as the Crime of Stalking
Florida law does not have a separate statute outlawing cyberbullying as such, but its stalking law covers “cyberstalking” as well. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 784.048.) A person is guilty of a misdemeanor crime if he or she willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly harasses or cyberstalks another person. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 784.048.) Cyberbullying is a felony crime if the person engaging in it also makes a credible threat to the victim.
Florida law defines “harassing” conduct as a course of conduct serving no legitimate purpose that is directed at a specific person, causing that person substantial emotional distress. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 784.048.)
- Florida law defines a “credible threat” as a verbal and/or nonverbal threat that places the individual targeted by the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of family members or close associates. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 784.048.) Fear of a threat is reasonable if the person making the threat has the apparent ability and intent to carry it out. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 784.048.)
- How is cyberbullying punished in Florida?
A person convicted of misdemeanor cyberbullying faces a possible prison sentence not to exceed one year, a fine not to exceed $1,000, or both. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § § 775.082, 775.083.)
A person convicted of felony cyberbullying faces a possible prison sentence not to exceed five years, a fine not to exceed $5,000, or both. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § § 775.082, 775.083.)
Stalking is charged as a first degree misdemeanor absent aggravating factors and is punishable by up to a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. Stalking is charged as a third-degree felony and is punishable by up to five years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine if any of the following aggravating circumstances are present:
· The accused made a credible threat during the alleged stalking behavior.
· The accused also violated an injunction or other court order requiring the accused to stay away from the alleged victim.
· The alleged victim is under 16 years of age.
If you believe that you are the victim of stalking you have the legal right to request an injunction which, if granted, will order the alleged stalker to refrain from contacting you or harassing you. Although an attorney is not required to request an injunction it is in your best interest to consult a Florida criminal defense attorney to ensure that you are doing everything possible to protect yourself and your loved ones.
If you have been accused of stalking or anyh of the crimes listed above, you must take the accusations seriously. Not only do you face a potential term of incarceration if convicted, a conviction for stalking could also adversely affect your rights to custody or visitation with minor children. Contact a Florida criminal defense attorney immediately if you face stalking charges to ensure that your rights as an accused are protected. Contact Powers Sellers & Finkelstein PLC by calling 727-531-2926 today to schedule your appointment.