Stalking and harassment charges in Florida involve more than just giving someone unwanted attention. Prosecutors must prove several elements, including malicious intent, for a conviction. These elements distinguish between overzealous but harmless attention and emotionally harmful intimidation.
A conviction for stalking or aggravated stalking can carry hefty penalties such as fines and incarceration. Contact a Florida stalking defense attorney from Metcalf Falls, Criminal Defense Attorneys, P.A. to help you defend against stalking charges.
What Is Stalking and Harassment?
Stalking is a criminal offense defined in Florida Statute 784.048 that occurs when someone follows, harasses, or cyberstalks someone else.
“Following” refers to physical proximity to the other person. “Harassment” describes repeated actions directed at a specific person that causes them substantial emotional distress and serves no legitimate purpose.
“Cyberstalking” is essentially harassing someone through emails, text messages, or other electronic means, or hacking into someone’s online accounts and devices without a legitimate purpose.
Simply performing these acts is not enough for stalking charges to arise. Prosecutors must show you engaged in these actions willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly.
An alleged victim of stalking can seek an injunction under Florida Statute 784.0485. The court can issue a temporary injunction pending a hearing. It can issue a permanent injunction after a hearing if the alleged victim proves stalking has occurred. The restraining order will order the alleged stalker to refrain from stalking the alleged victim.
Courts have several options when people violate restraining orders, including:
- Civil contempt charges
- Criminal contempt charges
A prosecutor can even file criminal charges for violating the stalking injunction under Florida Statute 784.0487.
Types of Stalking Charges in Florida
Stalking can take a few different forms, each of which requires prosecutors to prove a different set of elements.
Simple stalking requires proof of two elements. First, prosecutors must prove that you were following, harassing, or cyber stalking the alleged victim. Second, they must have evidence that you engaged in these actions willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly.
“Willfully” means the contact was not inadvertent or coincidental. “Maliciously” means you knew your actions would cause emotional distress. “Repeatedly” means that there were multiple incidents of following, harassing, or cyber stalking.
Aggravated stalking involves stalking plus one additional element. This offense can take four forms:
- Stalking plus a credible threat of violent crimes against the alleged victim
- Stalking a child under 16 years old
- Stalking after an injunction for trespassing, domestic violence, or assault and battery
- Stalking victims of sex crimes after conviction and sentencing
If prosecutors prove one of the aggravating elements, you face a felony charge with much more severe penalties than simple stalking.
Cyberstalking is a crime when it:
- Occurs willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly
- Causes substantial emotional distress
- Serves no legitimate purpose
This crime can occur in two ways. First, cyberstalking happens when the alleged “cyber stalker” engages in a pattern of conduct to communicate with the alleged victim. This form of cyberstalking covers a wide range of actions, including:
- Online sexual harassment
- Online workplace harassment
- Online verbal harassment
The second form of cyberstalking happens when the alleged stalker accesses or attempts to access the alleged victim’s online accounts or internet-connected home electronic systems. This type of cyberstalking essentially criminalizes serially hacking the victim to cause them harm and distress.
Florida Revenge Porn Charges
A related offense, sexual cyberharassment, appears in Florida Statute 784.049. This crime is also commonly referred to as “revenge porn.” It occurs when someone electronically publishes or disseminates a sexually explicit image (along with the alleged victim’s personally identifying information) without the victim’s consent.
Penalties for Stalking and Harassment
Simple stalking is a first-degree misdemeanor. The sentence for this offense can include up to one year in jail. Aggravated stalking is a third-degree felony. This offense can carry a sentence of up to five years in prison.
Cyberstalking is punished based on the circumstances accompanying it. Generally, cyberstalking is a first-degree misdemeanor. However, aggravated cyberstalking is a third-degree felony.
Sexual cyberharassment is a first-degree misdemeanor for a first offense and a third-degree felony for a second or subsequent offense.
Defenses Against Stalking and Harassment Charges
Defenses against stalking will typically involve a combination of strategies. First, the burden of proving a criminal case falls on the prosecution.
If the prosecutors fail to prove every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, you can simply point out to the jury that the prosecution has failed to prove its case, and you are entitled to an acquittal.
Second, you can negate the elements of the offense by rebutting the prosecution’s evidence. Thus, you can rebut that the actions happened repeatedly by showing you only contacted the alleged victim once.
Similarly, you can present evidence that your actions were not malicious. For example, you might show that the messages sent to the alleged victim were work-related and innocuous.
Contact a Stalking and Harassment Attorney
A conviction for stalking or aggravated stalking can result in a criminal record and a significant period of incarceration. Contact us to learn how we can tailor a defense to your stalking charges and seek a fair outcome based on the facts.
Call Metcalf Falls, Criminal Defense Attorneys, P.A. today at 813-258-4800 to schedule a free consultation with our Tampa stalking and harassment defense lawyers.