Family Violence Offenses: Stalking
Stalking can have extremely detrimental effects on the personal and professional lives of victims, so it is crucial to have an understanding of the law in this area if you believe that you are the victim of stalking. A dedicated family law attorney can help you get the legal safeguards and protections that you need.
Stalking and Aggravated Stalking
In Florida, a person commits the crime of stalking when he or she willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person. A charge rises to the level of “aggravated stalking” when the above criteria are met, plus either:
- The offender further makes a credible threat to the victim,
- A court has previously granted the victim an injunction for protection against the offender, but the offender knowingly, willfully, and repeatedly stalks the victim,
- The victim is under sixteen years of age, or
- The offender has been convicted of certain sexual offenses and prohibited from contacting the victim of the offense, yet willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly stalks the victim.
Under Florida’s stalking statute, “harassment” is defined as engaging in a course of conduct that is directed at a specific person and causes substantial emotional distress. Furthermore, to be considered harassment, the behavior must not serve any legitimate purpose. Florida law also requires that the harassment take the form of a pattern of conduct that is made up of a series of acts over a period of time. This “course of conduct” shows a continuity of purpose that is required to prove a charge of stalking.
Cyberstalking is the use of electronic communication directed at a specific person to communicate words or images that cause substantial emotional distress to the recipient. As long as the prosecutor can demonstrate a course of conduct indicating a pattern of behavior and there is no legitimate purpose to the communications, cyberstalking is punishable under the same statute.
A charge of aggravated stalking sometimes requires that, in addition to a pattern of harassment, the defendant must have made a credible threat against the victim. A credible threat can be either verbal, nonverbal, or a combination of the two, but must place the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of the victim’s family members or close associates. Furthermore, the threat must be made with the apparent ability to be carried out. Intent to actually go through with the threatened action is not required.
Stalking is considered a first degree misdemeanor in Florida and is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Aggravated stalking is a third degree felony and is punishable by up to five years in prison and the payment of a $5,000 fine.
Additionally, a victim may petition the court to issue a restraining order, which prohibits the defendant from any contact with the victim to the sentence. This type of order can be valid for up to ten years, but each court will determine the length of each order based upon the individual circumstances of the case, including the likelihood of future violations and the safety of the victim. Courts may also order protective injunctions or other court-imposed prohibitions of conduct prior to any formal convictions.
If you have been the victim of stalking, please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free consultation.