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Florida Stalking Laws and Penalties

The Florida Legislature has enacted detailed stalking laws to protect citizens from harassing, pursuing, threatening, or cyberstalking another person. Individuals who commit the crime of stalking are commonly romantically or otherwise personally connected to the victim. For this reason, most prosecutors and judges take stalking charges extremely seriously.

While mental illness and substance abuse often contribute to the actions of a stalker, these are not excuses. While many persons accused of stalking suffer from mental illness and/or substance abuse, these are not recognized defenses to the crime. As such, it is crucial that a person charged with stalking consult with an experienced attorney immediately.

For stalking victims, the experience can be traumatizing, particularly if the alleged perpetrator was once a romantic partner or close friend. Moving from what was once a safe, comfortable relationship to one that is fraught with fear is understandably frightening.

What Is Considered to Be Stalking in Florida?

Florida Statute 784.048 defines stalking as a course of conduct wherein someone “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following, harassing, or cyberstalking” another person. The statute further defines “course of conduct” as a pattern of conduct that is composed of a series of acts over a period of time, as opposed to one isolated incident.

To prove the charge of stalking, the State must also prove that the stalking conduct caused emotional distress to the victim and served no legitimate purpose. The language concerning “no legitimate purpose” creates a legal distinction between pestering or annoying conduct and conduct that is intended only to create fear or emotional distress in the victim’s mind.

Examples of Stalking

Stalking can take many forms, keeping in mind that the behavior serves no legitimate purpose. A few examples may include, but are not limited to:

  • Vandalism of a person’s property
  • Repeatedly calling someone’s place of business
  • Leaving unwanted gifts or notes
  • Following someone as they complete their daily routine
  • Pursuing a person’s online activities
  • Implanting a GPS device to determine a person’s whereabouts
  • Videotaping or photographing someone without their knowledge
  • Collecting information about someone without their permission
  • Hiring a private investigator to find information on someone
  • Contacting the person’s friends, family members, or acquaintances for information
  • Making threats against the person, their friends, or family members

The law presumes that these behaviors can reasonably cause the victim significant emotional distress if done for no legitimate reason.

The Penalties for Stalking in Florida

For simple stalking, which is classified as a first-degree misdemeanor, the penalties may include up to one year of jail or probation, no contact with the victim, and a substantial fine. Furthermore, the offender may also be subject to a ten-year injunction, commonly referred to as a restraining order, which is designed to protect the victim from further harassment or stalking by imposing specific prohibitions on the stalker's actions towards the victim.

It's essential to note that the severity of the penalties can be influenced by various factors, including the presence of an injunction for protection against the stalker. Violating such an injunction can escalate the charges and lead to more severe consequences. Additionally, the statute of limitations for stalking charges in Florida is two years, meaning the prosecution has two years from the date of the alleged stalking incident to file charges for simple stalking.

Those convicted of Aggravated Stalking face even more severe fines and penalties.

What Is Aggravated Stalking?

Perpetrators who stalk minors or who threaten the victim with severe injury or death are commonly charged with aggravated stalking. There are four types of aggravated stalking, according to Florida stalking laws. Penalties for aggravated stalking are much more serious than stalking.

1. Credible Threat Aggravated Stalking

To be convicted of credible threat aggravated stalking, it must be proven that the accused willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly followed, harassed, or cyberstalked another person without a reasonable doubt. The accused must have made a credible threat that caused the person to fear physical injury or death.

The credible threat may be verbal or nonverbal, but it must put the target person in reasonable fear for their safety. A credible threat may also include a threat to the target person’s friend or family member. It must be evident that the accused has the ability to carry out the threat.

2. Child Aggravated Stalking

If it can be proven without a reasonable doubt that someone followed, harassed, or cyberstalked someone younger than 15 years of age, that person will be convicted of child aggravated stalking.

3. Injunction Violation Aggravated Stalking

When proving this type of aggravated stalking, the prosecution must demonstrate without a reasonable doubt that the accused followed, harassed, or cyberstalked another person despite the presence of an injunction that protected them.

The injunction could be for prior offenses related to dating violence, sexual violence, domestic violence, or some other form of conduct. The accused must know that the injunction exists.

4. Victim of a Previous Crime Aggravated Stalking

To be convicted of this type of aggravated stalking, the accused must have been convicted of lewd or lascivious crimes upon or in the presence of someone younger than 16 years of age. These crimes may also include sexual battery or prohibited computer transmissions to someone aged 16 years or younger.

The accused must have been prohibited from being in contact with the person yet followed, harassed, or repeatedly cyberstalked them.

Penalties for Aggravated Stalking in Florida

According to Florida stalking laws, penalties for aggravated stalking are severe. If a person is convicted of aggravated stalking, they will receive a felony in the third degree, which carries a prison term of up to five years and a monetary fine of $5,000. If there is a previous conviction of stalking, penalties can be even more severe.

Specific circumstances can influence the severity of the penalties. For example, if the aggravated stalking involves making a credible threat or targeting a victim under 16 years of age, it's designated at a higher severity level under Florida's Criminal Punishment Code. While there is no mandatory minimum sentence prescribed without additional aggravating factors, the

judge has discretion over the sentence's duration. Conversely, if the charge results from violating a court-imposed order, it can lead to a minimum permissible sentence of 21 months in prison.

What Is Considered to Be Harassment in Florida?

Harassment is engaging in a pattern of conduct that is directed at a specific person, causes substantial emotional distress to that person, and serves no legitimate purpose.

There are many different forms of harassment, but one example is repeatedly calling or texting someone who doesn’t want to be contacted or contacting their friends or acquaintances.

How Do I Prove Stalking in Florida?

To prove stalking, one must have documentation or witness accounts that indicate the issues. The victim should show evidence of stalking, such as the following:

  • Harassing emails, records of phone calls, or text messages
  • A timeline of when the stalking began and the pattern that was followed
  • Evidence that they have tried to stop the stalking

Without evidence, it is hard to determine whether a claim of stalking may be exaggerated or misleading. Cases without appropriate documentation may be thrown out.

FAQs about Stalking Laws in Florida

We will now answer some common FAQs about stalking laws in Florida.

Q. Can stalking occur online or through social media?

A. Yes, cyberstalking is recognized under Florida law and involves using electronic communication to harass, threaten, or follow someone without their consent, causing substantial emotional distress. This includes actions taken through social media, email, or any other electronic means.

Q. Can a Minor be Charged with Stalking in Florida?

A. Yes, a minor can be charged with stalking in Florida. Under Florida law, stalking is defined without specifying the age of the perpetrator, meaning that minors can indeed face charges for stalking behaviors. This includes actions such as repeatedly following, harassing, or cyberstalking another individual in a manner that causes substantial emotional distress.

Q. Can Restraining Orders Be Issued Against Someone in Another State?

A. Yes, restraining orders can be issued against someone living in another state, thanks to the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution and federal laws such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). These laws require all states to recognize and enforce protection orders issued by other states, provided that certain conditions are met.

Have You Been Accused of Stalking?

If you have been accused of stalking in Pinellas County, it is important to have a knowledgeable legal team to provide you with a good defense. Florida stalking laws are quite stringent, and having a team on your side can help you.

It may be possible to defend yourself against stalking charges, but only someone familiar with appropriate legal strategies can assist. Consulting with an experienced St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney is in your best interests. Contact the Denson Firm to schedule a free, confidential consultation today.

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