Stalking and Cyber Stalking
We all know that there are a lot of trolls on the internet and the internet can be like the wild west, where anything goes. That being said, there are actual limits to the types of conduct which are legal under Florida law. The line the legislature has drawn is at cyber-stalking. This charge requires the State to show a pattern of harassing behavior directed towards a single individual over a period of time. These are high burdens for the state to meet; a single mean tweet is insufficient. In-person stalking has similar requirements for online cyber-stalking. The behavior needs to be egregious and consistent and for no valid purpose. If there are no aggravating factors, then stalking is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in the county jail. Aggravating factors that turn stalking into a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in the Florida Department of Corrections include: stalking which includes making a credible threat, stalking in violation of a court order (such as a domestic violence injunction, for example), or stalking of a minor.
The reason these burdens are so high is because the legislature was concerned about making illegal conduct which is arguably protected by the first amendment. For example, consistently tweeting at your elected representative could possibly be a crime or it could just be you exercising your right to express your opinions about policy issues of the day.
If you or someone you know has been charged with stalking or cyberstalking, reach out to me immediately so that we can begin to plan your defense of these charges.
(a) “Harass” 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.
(b) “Course of conduct” means a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time, however short, which evidences a continuity of purpose. The term does not include constitutionally protected activity such as picketing or other organized protests.
(c) “Credible threat” means a verbal or nonverbal threat, or a combination of the two, including threats delivered by electronic communication or implied by a pattern of conduct, which places the person who is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family members or individuals closely associated with the person, and which is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm. It is not necessary to prove that the person making the threat had the intent to actually carry out the threat. The present incarceration of the person making the threat is not a bar to prosecution under this section.
(d) “Cyberstalk” 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.
- A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of stalking, a misdemeanor of the first degree.
- A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that person commits the offense of aggravated stalking, a felony of the third degree.
- A person who, after an injunction for protection against repeat violence, sexual violence, or dating violence pursuant to s. 784.046, or an injunction for protection against domestic violence pursuant to s. 741.30, or after any other court-imposed prohibition of conduct toward the subject person or that person’s property, knowingly, willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of aggravated stalking, a felony of the third degree.
- A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks a child under 16 years of age commits the offense of aggravated stalking.
Jury Instruction 8.7(a) (Aggravated Stalking)
Jury Instruction 8.7(b) (Aggravated Stalking, Injunction Entered)
Jury Instruction 8.7(c) (Aggravated Stalking, Victim Under 16)
Jury Instruction 8.7(d) (Aggravated Stalking, Prior Conviction for Sex Offense)