Orlando Stalking Lawyer
Stalking or harassment occurs when someone communicates with or physically follows someone else with no legitimate reason in a manner that causes emotional distress. Florida law prohibits stalking and harassment in person, over the phone, or via the use of the internet (cyberstalking). Florida’s anti-stalking laws can, unfortunately, be relatively vague about the difference between regular, legitimate communication and unlawful stalking. If you’ve been charged with stalking in central Florida, the Orlando stalking defense lawyers at the Joshi Law Firm, PA are here to help.
What is Stalking Under Florida Law?
Florida law defines stalking as engaging in conduct or a course of conduct in which one “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person.” The law further defines harassment (as explained below) as well as “cyberstalking.” Cyberstalking means to either access or attempt to access the private online accounts or home security of a person or engage in a course of conduct to communicate with a person through electronic/internet means.
Harassment is not a separate crime in Florida; instead, harassment is part of the underlying conduct that can give rise to a stalking criminal charge. Florida law defines “harassment” as conduct “directed at a specific person which causes substantial emotional distress to that person and serves no legitimate purpose.” There is, however, a separate crime for “harassing or obscene phone calls,” but that statute requires use of a telecommunications device.
Misdemeanor vs. Felony Stalking
Stalking can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony under Florida law, depending upon the specific nature of the defendant’s conduct. The primary difference between misdemeanor and felony charges is whether the defendant made a “credible threat” to the victim.
A defendant convicted of first-degree misdemeanor stalking can be punished by up to a year in jail, 12 months probation, and up to $1,000 in fines. If the defendant “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that person,” they can be charged with a third-degree felony and sentenced to up to 5 years’ probation, $5,000 in fines, and up to 5 years in prison.
A “credible threat” means that there was some threat, either verbal or nonverbal or a combination of the two, that makes the person on the receiving end reasonably fear for their safety or the safety of their friends or family. The threat can be carried out through electronic communication or implied by a pattern of conduct. The threat must be made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause harm. The prosecution does not need to show that the defendant actually intended to carry out the threat, only that the threat gave the victim reasonable cause to fear.
Special Victims and Aggravated Stalking
Defendants may face aggravated stalking charges even without a credible threat under certain other circumstances. Defendants may also face felony aggravated stalking charges if they stalk a victim after being subject to an injunction for protection (restraining order) based on the defendants’ prior domestic violence, sexual violence, or other court-imposed prohibition of conduct. Additionally, defendants can be charged with aggravated stalking if the alleged victim is a child under the age of 16. In both cases, the defendant can be charged with a felony in the third degree.
Defending Against Stalking Charges
Stalking allegations can, unfortunately, devolve into a “he-said she-said” scenario. The prosecution must demonstrate all of the required elements beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction, so the word of an alleged victim without any additional objective proof is unlikely to suffice. Additionally, even if the alleged victim can show communications, the defendant might have a legitimate defense to the conduct including:
- The conduct was protected first amendment activity, such as picketing or protesting
- The conduct was made for a legitimate purpose, such as for business purposes, child custody, legal matters, or other legitimate reasons. Even if the communications turned heated, if they were made for a proper purpose, they may not constitute stalking.
Talk to your Orlando dedicated stalking defense attorney about your case to discuss your potential defenses and how to present your strongest case.
Get Help from a Seasoned Central Florida Stalking Defense Attorney
The experienced Orlando stalking defense legal team at the Joshi Law Firm, PA is ready to fight for you, your family, and your rights. Please contact our office for further inquiry or if you would like to set up a consultation. Call today at 407-661-1109 to start building your case.