Miami Stalking Lawyer
If you or a loved one has been arrested or charged with stalking, cyberstalking, or aggravated stalking, it is critical to consult with an experienced Miami stalking lawyer as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. A criminal charge requires the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. You may face serious consequences if you are convicted of stalking. In order to maximize your chances of resolving your stalking case successfully, you should retain an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer.
What is Stalking under Florida Law?
As part of Florida law’s domestic violence protections, Florida Statute, section 784.048, was passed to protect domestic violence victims from malicious and threatening conduct that falls short of assault or battery. Stalking can be classified as either simple stalking or aggravated stalking, according to the law. The crime of simple stalking is defined as following, harassing, or cyberstalking another person willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly. This basic definition of stalking is expanded on and incorporated into aggravated stalking.
Elements of Stalking
Stalking or aggravated stalking requires (1) that a defendant “repeatedly” follow, harass, or cyberstalk the victim and (2) that the defendant has a “willful” and “malicious” intent.
(1) Repeatedly following, harassing, or cyberstalking the victim
“Repeatedly” means at least more than once.
“Harassment” is defined as a course of conduct that targets a specific person, serves no legitimate purpose, and causes substantial emotional distress.
“Cyberstalk” means engaging in a course of conduct in which words, images, or language are communicated, or cause to be communicated, by using electronic mail or electronic communication directed at a specific person, causing substantial emotional distress to that person and serving no legitimate purposes.
Both “harassment” and “cyberstalking” require a “course of conduct,” which the law defines as “a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of purpose.” Consequently, stalking requires a series of actions occurring within a specific time frame targeted at a specific person. Some examples of the type of conduct that would rise to the level of stalking would be unwanted contact, for example, by repeatedly showing up uninvited to the victim’s home, job, school, or other places the victim regularly frequents. Also, stalking can include repeated unwanted communications with the victim via mail, phone, text messages, email, or social media.
(2) “Willful” and “malicious” intent
The stalking statute does not define these terms, but Florida’s jury instruction for the crime of stalking defines “willfully” as “knowingly, intentionally, and purposely.” Although the jury instruction for simple stalking (misdemeanor stalking) doesn’t define “malicious,” the jury instruction for aggravated stalking by violation of an injunction defines “maliciously” as “wrongfully, intentionally, and without legal justification or excuse.” In reality, there doesn’t appear to be much difference between the terms “willful” and “malicious.”
What is Aggravated Stalking?
Aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony, can apply to four scenarios:
- The defendant follows, harasses, or cyberstalks a victim willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly and makes a credible threat threatening to kill the victim or the victim’s children, siblings, spouse, parents, or dependents.
- The defendant commits simple stalking against a minor under 16 years of age.
- The defendant “knowingly” stalks a person that already has a restraining order, stalking injunction, or an injunction against domestic violence, repeat violence, sexual violence, or dating violence (can be a temporary injunction or permanent injunction).
- The defendant stalks a victim that they have been prohibited from contacting in certain sex crime convictions.
The stalking statute defines “credible threat” as:
a verbal threat 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 for the prosecutor to prove that the defendant intended to carry out the threat. Additionally, a person who makes a threat may be prosecuted even if they are in jail.
Florida Stalking Penalties
It is a first-degree misdemeanor to stalk or cyberstalk, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
As a third-degree felony, aggravated stalking can carry a maximum prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $5,000.
Common Defenses to a Stalking Charge
It is crucial for a person accused of the criminal offense of stalking to have an experienced criminal defense attorney by their side to assist them in developing a strong defense strategy to a stalking charge. There are a number of defenses available to a person facing stalking charges, including:
- The contact was for a “legitimate purpose:” When you talk to someone about a legal matter, business, or child custody, then it’s presumptively for a legitimate purpose. In other words, civil communications about legal, business, or child custody matters shouldn’t be considered stalking.
- Engaging in constitutionally protected activity: Conduct that is protected under the First Amendment, like picketing or organized protesting, cannot be considered stalking.
- Exaggerated, false, or fabricated allegations
- The victim didn’t suffer “substantial emotional distress:” Either the victim did not testify that they suffered substantial emotional distress, or even if they did, a reasonable person wouldn’t have under the circumstances.
- Victim not in “reasonable fear:” Based on the facts and circumstances of the case, a reasonable person would not be afraid (only applicable to aggravated stalking)
More Stalking Resources
Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office – Provides information on stalking and personality profiles of people accused of stalking.
Victim Connect Resource Center – Contains additional examples of behavior that can constitute stalking.
Contact an Experienced Miami Stalking Attorney
Over the years, we have represented hundreds of clients in a wide range of cases. There is a good chance that we have dealt with your type of case and have represented clients who shared similar needs and concerns that you may have. Feel free to browse through the results section of our site for a representative sample of some of our past cases and the results we have achieved for our clients.
By taking the immediate action of hiring an attorney to defend yourself, you are minimizing the chances that your criminal case will have lasting consequences for your career, personal life, and reputation.
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