Switch to ADA Accessible Theme
Close Menu
Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer > Blog > General > When Does “Harassment” Justify an Injunction Against Stalking in Florida?

When Does “Harassment” Justify an Injunction Against Stalking in Florida?


Under Florida law, the crime of stalking occurs when a person “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person.” In this context, to “harass” someone means to engage in any course of conduct that causes the other person “substantial emotional distress” and that “serves no legitimate purpose.” The target of stalking or cyberstalking can seek a civil injunction from a judge. If the stalker subsequently violates that injunction, the State Attorney may prosecute the offender for a first-degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 1 year in jail. Any subsequent stalking violations can be charged as a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

Appeals Court Vacates Injunction Against Man Who Texted Fellow Church Member

Given the potential criminal penalties for violating an injunction against stalking, it is critical to ensure that a judge issues said orders in accordance with the law. This can be tricky given that the standard is proving the respondent’s actions caused the petitioner “substantial emotional distress.” While this language is subjective, judges must apply an objective standard when actually looking at the respondent’s conduct.

A recent decision from the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, Potts v. Lewis, provides a useful illustration. In this case, the respondent is a plumber who attended the same church as the petitioner. For some reason, the petitioner believed that the respondent was “acting as an unlicensed general contractor” and began texting her repeatedly with messages urging her to stop and “repent” for her actions. The petitioner also reported the respondent to the authorities and confronted her in-person at church.

The petitioner eventually sought an injunction for protection against stalking. The Circuit Court granted the injunction. On appeal, however, the Second District reversed. While the appellate court emphasized that it did not “condone” the respondent’s actions in any way, it nevertheless found that there was insufficient proof to demonstrate, as a matter of law, that what the respondent did “would have caused substantial emotional distress in a reasonable person.” The court cited previous cases where judges rejected stalking injunctions based on making threats to sue, accusations of lying, and even “creating a scene” in public.

Contact the Joshi Law Firm Today

Cases like this illustrate that just because certain speech may make a person uncomfortable, that does not mean the speaker committed stalking. Indeed, many people seek injunctions against stalking for lawful speech protected by the First Amendment, including protesting. And as noted above, “harassment” requires proof that the speech in question “serves no legitimate purpose.” If you are communicating with someone for a legitimate purpose, such as engaging in business or you are involved in another legal matter involving them, even heated communications on those subjects do not rise to the level of harassment.

So if you have been accused of stalking, it is important to stand up for your rights in court. If you need to speak with a qualified Orlando stalking defense lawyer, call the Joshi Law Firm, P.A., today at (407) 661-1009 or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn