Today’s advances in technology and our seemingly endless access to others; our ability to “Tweet” our thoughts, “Snap” our stories, and “Share” our way into the hands of anyone who has a smartphone, has created not only a world of connection but one of potential danger.
The ease with which we can find one another is astounding. A simple Google search can sometimes reveal a person’s academic history, phone number, even address. Such access makes criminal stalking or cyberstalking very easy. Further, such access may cloud the definition of stalking and can potentially create a number of false accusations of otherwise innocent actions.
Attorney for Stalking Crimes in West Palm Beach, FL
Stalking allegations are very serious. Simply filing for a temporary restraining order can drastically alter a person’s life. If you or someone you know has been accused of stalking, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A..
Our attorneys pride themselves on hands on, in-depth legal counseling, and will walk with their clients throughout every stage of the litigation. We accept cases in West Palm Beach, Florida and in the surrounding counties of Broward County and Miami-Dade County, FL.
To schedule an in-person consultation with one of the experienced criminal defense lawyers at Meltzer & Bell, P.A., call (561) 557-8686 now.
Stalking Defined by Florida Statute § 784.048
Florida Statute § 784.048 defines stalking as, a person who (1) willfully, (2) maliciously, and (3) repeatedly follows or harasses another person.
Stalking, in this context, also includes cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is defined as communicating words, images, or language over e-mail or other electronic communication that is directed at a person and causes substantial emotional distress.
Being accused of cyberstalking can include actions like sending text messages, e-mails or other electronic communication, or any of the following:
- Assuming the victim’s identity or
- Posting private information or private pictures about the victim.
The target of the stalking can determine the seriousness of the criminal offense. For example, stalking or cyberstalking a minor child is punished more harshly than stalking an adult. In Florida, stalking a minor is considered aggravated stalking.
Useful Definitions for Stalking
“Credible Threat” is defined as a verbal, nonverbal, (including electronic), or implied communication that places a person in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of their family, friends, and close associates, that is made with the present ability to carry out such a threat.
“Course of Conduct” is defined as a pattern or method of doing things accumulated over time, which shows some illustrated purpose.
“Harass” is defined as engaging in a method of conduct directed at a specific person, which causes substantial emotional distress.
Aggravated stalking is subject to felony consequences. Any of the following actions can turn simple stalking into aggravated stalking under FL law:
- If a person willfully and repeatedly follows, cyberstalks, or harasses a child under 16 years old;
- If a person commits a second or subsequent stalking offense;
- If a person stalks a victim after receiving a protective injunction against a court-imposed prohibition.
Florida Penalties for Stalking/Cyberstalking and Aggravated Stalking
If the State is able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual is guilty of stalking or cyberstalking in violation of Section 784.048, then the penalties are as follows:
- Stalking is punishable by a first-degree misdemeanor. First-degree misdemeanors are punishable by up to twelve (12) months in jail and up to $1,000 fines.
- Aggravated stalking is a third-degree felony. Third-degree felonies are punishable by up to five (5) years in prison and up to $5,000 fines.
Restraining Orders and Stalking Injunctions
Florida courts may order two types of restraining orders in response to stalking allegations. It is important to note, that temporary protective orders can take immediate effect until a hearing can be held to determine the validity of the stalking allegations.
The two categories of injunctions include:
- Ex parte Injunctions – can take immediate effect (immediate ex parte injunction) if the judge deems it appropriate. Here, the judge will order the defendant to stop any activity that could be considered stalking or threatening to the victim. Such orders may also contain directions to law enforcement officers regarding the victim’s protection. These orders may last for up to fifteen (15) days; or
- Final Injunctions – after a hearing a judge will issue a final injunction. These orders can last for a specific period or indefinitely until either the person who filed or the defendant requests that the injunction is canceled. Final injunctions encompass all of the protections from ex parte injunctions.
Sexual Cyber Harassment under Florida Law
The crime of sexual cyber harassment is prohibited by Florida Statute Section § 784.049. The crime is a misdemeanor in the first degree which is punishable by up to a year in jail. Under the statute, the crime of sexual cyber harassment requires proof beyond all reasonable doubt that:
- the defendant published a sexually explicit image;
- of a person;
- that contains or conveys the personal identification information of the depicted person;
- to an internet website;
- without the person’s consent;
- for no legitimate purpose; and
- with the intent of causing emotional distress.
Florida law defines “sexual explicit image” as any image depicting a person engaged in sexual conduct.
Although the crime is typically charges as a misdemeanor, if a person has a prior conviction for the same crime and commits a second or subsequent crime, the crime can be charged as a third degree felony.
The prohibiton against sexual cyber harassment allow a law enforcement officer to arrest, without an arrest warrant, any person that he or she has probable cause to believe has violated the law.
The statute also allows the victim to initiate a civil action against a person who violates this law and such civil action may include an injunction and monetary damages.
Rules for Filing an Injunction – Visit the Florida Courts website makes available the forms required to successfully file a protective order against an individual. Also, find information about the Florida procedure for processing the request
Florida Chapter 741 – Visit the official website of the Florida Legislature for the full legislative chapter on domestic violence, including the definition of “family” under Florida law.
Florida Coalition of Against Domestic Violence – Visit FCADV, created to free the world of violence by empowering women and children through the elimination of personal and institutional violence. The website provides extensive resources regarding how to obtain a temporary injunction or a regular civil injunction due to domestic violence, dating violence, or repeat violence in Florida.
Find a Lawyer for Stalking Charges in Palm Beach County, FL
Stalking is a serious criminal offense. Having an attorney who is an experienced litigator and who understands the ins and outs of courtroom procedure is invaluable when fighting protective orders and other injunctions.
At Meltzer & Bell, P.A. we dedicate our work to fighting for the rights of criminal defendants. If you or someone you know has been charged with a violent crime, or any other felony or misdemeanor charges in Broward County or Miami-Dade County, Florida, then call our office.
Call (561) 557-8686 for more information about how our attorneys can help you.
This article was last updated Thursday, July 20, 2017.