People generally understand what the term “stalking” refers to, but that doesn’t mean they know how to define it. Florida has a statute that criminalizes stalking, and it states that stalking occurs when someone “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person.”
The law in question is Florida Statute 784.048, which states that the crime of stalking (as defined above) is a misdemeanor of the first degree. If you’re wondering what, specifically, is meant by “harass” or “cyberstalk,” the statute contains definitions of those terms, as well.
The term “harass” is defined as: “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.”
The term “cyberstalk” is defined as: “to engage in a course of conduct to communicate, or 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.”
The punishments for stalking are increased under certain circumstances. If the perpetrator willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person, and makes a credible threat to that person, then he or she has committed aggravated stalking.
A credible threat is defined as:
- 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 of his or her own safety, and
- is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm.
(The statute adds that is not necessary to prove that the person making the threat had the intention to actually carry it out. It also states that present incarceration of the person making the threat is not a bar to prosecution. This means that if someone who is in prison finds a way to stalk another person, then the prisoner can be convicted of stalking.)
Aggravated stalking can also occur when the victim is under 16 years of age, even if there has not been a credible threat. Aggravated stalking is a third degree felony.
It is also a third degree felony when someone willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person after:
- there has been an injunction for protection against repeat violence, sexual violence, or dating violence
- there has been an injunction for protection against domestic violence, or
- there has been any other court-imposed prohibition of conduct toward the subject person or that person’s property.
If you have been charged with stalking, you may wish to seek the counsel of a criminal defense attorney. If you are in the Fort Lauderdale area, attorney Mark S. Lowry may be able to help you. You can call or email his office today to schedule a consultation.